Iggy Pop went into a personal and creative free fall after the Stooges finally imploded in 1974, and while his re-emergence in 1977 with not one but two striking albums produced by David Bowie, The Idiot and Lust for Life, was little short of miraculous, they were also just the first steps in a long road toward Iggy reestablishing himself as a musician with something to say. While Iggy's comeback albums with Bowie earned him plenty of press, they didn't sell especially well, so Iggy did what scores of musicians have done over the years to pay the bills -- he hit the road, playing clubs and small theaters in America, Europe, and the United Kingdom for months at a time as he devoted his evenings to doing psychic battle with his audience. Where the Faces Shine is a six-CD box set that documents Iggy and his various backing bands on-stage between 1977 and 1981, with each disc recorded during a different show from this period. The sound quality is well short of audiophile standards (these recordings appear to be audience tapes except for disc four, a 1979 show from Los Angeles that was taken from a radio broadcast, complete with periodic interruptions from the announcer), and while there are some amazing moments in these six shows, there's also more than a little dross along with way. The set leads off with a March 1977 show from Chicago, with Bowie on keyboards; the band is tight and sympathetic, but Iggy seems to be struggling to hit the material at full impact. That's hardly the case with show number two, recorded in San Diego in November 1977; Bowie is off the tour and Iggy frequently abandons his lyrics to turn his songs into psycho-dramatic recitations about drugs and his emotional collapse, and while this set is OK as music, it captures the singer in a rare confessional mood that's fascinating (parts of this show have already surfaced on a disc called Lust for Life: Live 1977).
Disc three was recorded during a May 1978 gig in Stockholm, in which Pop is backed by former MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith and two other members of Sonic's Rendezvous Band, Scott Asheton (Iggy's drummer in the Stooges) and Gary Rasmussen. While the band brings some potent Detroit muscle to the proceedings, Scott Thurston's new wave keyboard meanderings sadly undercut the energy, and Iggy doesn't make any secret of his lack of enthusiasm for the audience. The November 1979 Los Angeles show finds Iggy backed by a band of punk rock all stars -- Brian James (ex-Damned) on guitar, Glen Matlock (ex-Sex Pistols) on bass, and Ivan Kral (ex-Patti Smith Group) on guitars and keyboards, with Klaus Kruger on drums. Sadly, the show seems to be one long battle between Pop and the audience, and while James is in fine form, there are moments where the band displays all the coherence of a train wreck (and when the musicians come in after the breakdown on "T.V. Eye," they all appear to be playing in different keys). The final two discs, recorded in Spain in 1980 and Italy in 1981, capture Iggy showing a new level of professionalism on-stage, delivering his material with force and passion without ceding all control, though that doesn't stop him from asking the audience in Bologna if they can pass along some cocaine. Easy Action has done a fine job of packaging this material, and the booklet included features thoughts from many of the musicians who played with Iggy on these shows, offering a superb perspective on life on the road with rock's great Dionysian. However, given the spotty quality of the performances and the audio, Where the Faces Shine is best left to loyal Iggy fans who want to hear any and all documentation of their hero -- this could have been edited down to a three-disc set and lost very little value in the process.