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Paul Mann: A Fitting Tribute to Ron Asheton

New bands and veteran musicians converge at The Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles for a rockin' jam session

A fitting tribute to Ron Asheton was held at The Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles on Jan. 13, one year after he died. The innovative guitar player and his band mates, The Stooges, had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the interim.

Organized by Asheton’s 18-year-old niece, Leanna — also the daughter of original Stooges drummer Scott Asheton — the tribute was a chaotic, low-key showcase of some great new bands as well as a chameleon jam of a bevy of veteran rock stars. Formed in 1967, the innovative Stooges are widely regarded as at the forefront of punk music. Lead singer Iggy Pop, who may have invented stage diving, became an American pop icon largely because of his antics with the Stooges.

Proceeds were donated to the Los Angeles Welfare Trust Fund, since Leanna Asheton’s uncle had a fondness for cats and dogs. The Roxy was perhaps the perfect venue for a tribute to the irreverent Ron Asheton.

I saw my first California concert at The Roxy (Chris Hillman of The Byrds) in 1975, just two years after its official opening. In the nearly four decades since, little has changed at the dusty little venue. The same dingy black curtains open to reveal the well-worn stage. The same black, dimly lit interior enveloped the crowd, dressed mostly in black garb, an identical scene that has played out over and over in the venue.

The event started out relatively orderly, with great new bands being announced and showcased. Handpicked by Leanna Asheton — presumably for their strong edgy sounds, akin to The Stooges — there were great new acts flexing their retro roots. Opening band Billy Boy on Poison played gutsy, bluesy rock, belying their youthful appearance. Singer Davis Leduke led the band in a full rock-and-roll assault of the classic hit “Search and Destroy.”

The Southern rock-influenced Night Horse played the next set. The Los Angeles-based band sounds a bit like Band of Horses, but with a more traditional Southern blues rock backbone — like the Allman Brothers.

The five-piece band tore through a short set of hard-rocking blues songs. Lead singer Sam James Velde was joined by Leduke for a blues-drenched duet at the end of their set. Velde dedicated the night not only to Asheton, but to contemporary alt punk rocker Jay Reatard who, at just age 29, had died that day.

The Entrance Band followed with a more modern but no less intense set of music. Sounding like a cross between The Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine, the innovative trio created a wall of powerful jam trance rock. Lead singer and guitar player Guy Blakeslee, who plays his guitar upside down and left-handed, en toned, “This is all for Ron.”

At this point in the evening, in the true punk spirit that Ron Asheton probably would have enjoyed, chaos and confusion prevailed. As the special lineup of rock legends congregated on stage, gone were the introductions, leaving the crowd to guess who was actually moving in and out of the ever-changing lineup.

Much of the super jam session was led by legendary punk bassist Mike Watt, best known as the founding member of the Minutemen. He joined the reformed Stooges in 2003. The other most prolific player of the evening was longtime Stooges collaborator Steve Mackay on sax and keyboards.

A revolving lineup of drum superstars involved no less than original Stooges stick man Scott Asheton, Jane’s Addiction’s Stephen Perkins and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith.

A parade of singers began to take the stage to belt out classic Stooges hits. Mike JTone of Circus Boy performed in classic Stooges tradition, singing in a trancelike rage. Stage diving, writhing on the floor and kicking instruments about the stage, he raised the ire of Mackay after knocking over his keyboards.

Steve Baise, another legendary New York punk bass player, played this first barrage of music until he stage-dived into a bevy of media photographers. Jesse Hughes of Eagles of Death Metal fame also played bass, before Mike Watt took over.

The guitarists also mixed it up. Scott Thurston quietly took the stage about the same time as Watt. He replaced another original Stooges guitarist, James Williamson. Thurston, who was the keyboardist for The Stooges from 1973 until their initial breakup in 1977, is perhaps best known as the current guitar player for Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.

As Watt began his portion of the jam, he asked the crowd euphemistically, “Does anybody know ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog,’” a Stooges classic? When an audience member raised his hand, Watt offered him the microphone. The would-be singer scrambled on stage to perform an impressive rendition of the song with the super group jamming behind him. Then Watt took over the singing duties on other Stooges classics, such as “1969” and “I Feel Alright.”

The super jam was followed by the headliners on the marquee, the Saint Louis-based band Living Things. Reminiscent of an early Romantics, this hard-rocking band has a polished sound that might be destined for the top of the music charts.

Led by lead singer Lillian Berlin and his brothers Eve on bass and Bosh on drums, along with Cory Becker on guitar, the band has been charting music since its 2005 debut album Ahead of the Lions.

Looking and sounding every bit like a classic cutting-edge rock band, the band may be on the brink of mass exposure. Its members are slated to appear as the legendary Ramones in the motion picture The Runaways. The film, scheduled to premiere Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival, is based on the story of the 1970s all-girl band of the same name that launched Joan Jetts’ music career. The band played a frenetic set at The Roxy laced with Stooges classics.

After most of the crowd had departed, there was one final, late-night set led by an Iggy Pop impersonator, with Scott Asheton back on drums for more Stooges classics.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor.

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