I can't say I can ever remember being excited about any of the Blowouts. 1998 had an amazing line-up with the White Stripes and Dirtbombs and Wildbunch on the same bill at Lili's. I was too young to even try that one. The next year I saw an early as hell Soledad Brothers gig, 2*Tabernacle's last show, the Go at Motor (all on the same night) and the White Stripes "rumored" last show followed by the Hentchmen's last show before their first extended hiatus. But I don't remember much leading up to that…certainly nothing that got me excited.
After quick sets by the Kicks (unreleased Eddie Baranek and Richard Panic side-project) at Cloud Nine(?) and the Sights (all donning heavy metal band t-shirts) at Lily's, the Go played to a packed crowd at Paycheck's in 2000. Just back from an extensive US tour, consensus was they bombed. The only band I've seen come back from tour worse than when they'd left. A long, drawn-out jam by the name of "Let's Get High" was particularly arduous, but Bobby was sporting a belt-buckle the size of a dinner plate. That was impressive. Am I imagining the pre-Whatcha Doin jam "Black-Eyed Susan" with Bobby's harmonica wailings or did they actually play that one too?
I believe the Hentchmen were supposed to play the next night. But I got a kidney stone and spent the evening in the hospital, still keeping my pink wristband on until long past 2am, thinking by some miracle I'd be cured and still be able to catch the last act.
And after that I don't remember much. A show here or there every year, but nothing wholly exciting. This year has been a first with bands I wanna see all four nights. It's amazing. Wonderful even.
Wednesday night: As soon as I wrapped and clicked the silver band on my right wrist I immediately knew it was painfully too tight. I am an idiot. And I still got three more days I have to keep this sucker on. Does the Metro Times hate its fans?
Great Lakes Myth Society has a great name and nothing more going for them. Ignorable at best, the two songs of theirs I caught were a complete waste of my time. It was better spent absorbing the plethora of corporate advertising…a Scion parked inside the Majestic (I knew spots were hard to find on the street, but this seemed ridiculous), only Molson beer available at the bar, Guitar Center guitar picks littering the place, all being covered by a handful of cameramen from various local news organizations…the Detroit scene has finally got people paying attention and corporations paying to sponsor. Just wish we something more worth sponsoring to offer them.
The Hard Lessons are such difficult band to decipher. Their "We're the Hard Lessons and this is rock and roll" intro was just the beginning of a set replete with repeated, choreographed stage moves and hackneyed rock and roll cliché. The phrase "GGBB" gets bandied about a lot by anyone who's done their share of time touring and the Hard Lessons are the epitome of GGBB. It means 'good guys, bad band'.
Or as someone mentioned to me at the Majestic that night "They're the greatest mediocre band you'll ever see."
The songs are a consistent rehash of familiar chord changes and tired lyrical retread. Where it seems their inspiration is the explosive rock of the Who or MC5, what they provide in bravado (in comparison to those legends) ultimately comes up lacking. The MC5 and the Who both injected an artistic dose of zing (the Who's mod toggery and the Five's 'dope, guns, fucking in the streets') that gave those recycled blues riffs a new life whereas the Hard Lessons wear vacuous black and white on stage and have dumbed down their songs to the simplest, basest form. They offer nothing new to the mixture. And this has (probably) led to their success,
The Hard Lessons draw huge fervent crowds and can get them singing and clapping along with the greatest of ease. But the band's performance feels uninspired and insincere…an act of going through the motions and posturing. Their crowds eat it up, but I can't believe the Hard Lessons when they're onstage.
From the opening lyrics of their album Gasoline along the lines of "I saw you with that other girl" it feels like its not words coming from personal experience, but words coming from years of listening to artists who have written about their personal experiences. Or their set-closing cover of Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My"…while I can assume that they (the Hard Lessons) believe what they're saying, I am still left unconvinced and rolling my eyes.
Anyone in town whose musical opinion I honestly and truly trust echoes my sentiments. Lots of people in bands. Lots of people who've been around for a while. Lots of people who wouldn't dare let me mention their names here.
And I don't think the lack of Hard Lessons appreciation among this group is sour grapes or jealousy or anything with nefarious origins. The increased success of bands like the White Stripes, Detroit Cobras, Electric Six and any other local band that was around eight years ago who can now headline tours all over the world has left us with a live local music vacuum.
Where these great bands used to hit a local stage as much as once a month in their heyday, they're now (smartly) limiting themselves to as few as one or two performances in town per album. That leaves local music fans with a thirst to be quenched. And more and more, bands with less and less to offer are taking that on.
So seven years ago, in the pre-White Blood Cells salad days, you could see the White Stripes at the Magic Bag, the Magic Stick and the Gold Dollar all within a few months of each other. The bands performing with that amount of frequency at clubs of that intimacy now are nowhere near the caliber they used to be. When the Hard Lessons said from the stage that their performance would be their last in Michigan in six or seven weeks, I was left to wonder where the significance in the statement lies. THERE IS NO BAND IN DETROIT THAT SHOULD PLAY MORE THAN ONCE A MONTH. AND 90% OF THE BANDS DO NOT HAVE THE CHARISMA OR REASON TO PLAY MORE THAN ONCE EVERY THREE MONTHS.
That being said, Detroit has a history of great hometown bands that have played way too frequently. Many a story has been relayed to me by old-timers about how they would show up late to the Grande Ballroom on purpose to MISS the MC5. Take a look at the old handbills…the MC5 opened every other motherfucking show at that place. And from the (lack of breadth) of their song catalog you can sure as hell figure they were playing the same batch of songs over and over and over again. People were sick of 'em. I've heard similar rumblings about the Stooges, they being avoided because onstage they were SOOO hit-or-miss. And as near-and-dear the Gories are to my heart, my collection of flyers shows they were pretty omnipresent in this town circa 1987-91. And the Gories themselves will be the first to tell you how hated they were in town. And also how bad they were. The fact that Mick's original suggestion for naming the band the Horribles wasn't just clever, it was presciently spot-on.
But the Hard Lessons have worked. Hard. They refuse to be apologetic. They've toured endlessly, given up jobs and sunk tons of their own money into this endeavor. They clearly want to be rock stars and I do not begrudge them that one bit. Detroit is full of bands who lack confidence and are unwilling to take a chance. The Hard Lessons are the one shining example of how to break from that paralyzing curse.
They do seem not to have a band superego. I get the impression they do not say "no" to anything. And maybe that's the secret to their success…the 'there's no gig too small' kind of attitude. But rock and roll, as I've gleaned from the Hard Lessons, seems to be about simultaneously blurring and widening the gap between the band and the audience. Never before have I seen a band connect to their crowd on such an intrinsic level and yet personally felt so detached from what was happening onstage. The Hard Lessons are like a second-hand historical document, removed enough from their initial inspirations that the soul and ingenuity contained therein has been sanitized and condensed into Rock and Roll Refresher Course 101.
I think the Hard Lessons will continue to do well for themselves. Their work ethic alone should be an example to us all. They may even sell millions of records. For those who'd argue that'd be a sign of their artistic merit, of a rocking Detroit band who can play the game and get their own little slice of pie outside of the spokes of this town I will point you to thousands of dollar bins across the country brimming with copies of Rotting Pinata.
And this is not an attack. Augie, Korin and Christoph are the sweetest, most kind people you will ever meet. That's why I believe it's been so long for a proper dissection of their band to come about. In the post Stollsteimer/White altercation world, the whole town seems to be on eggshells trying not to disrupt the status quo. It seems typical to smile in someone's face and then turnaround and espouse about how bad their band is. Fact is, turning a blind eye to a band or paying them lip-service does no one any good. I think it'd do everyone a whole lot of good if honesty and straightforwardness became the new hip thing in Detroit
I believe a lot of people are scared to be frank for fear of how others will be honest in return. Too few a people in town are comfortable enough with how their own band is/was/will be to genuinely give others their honest opinion. I know a lot of the old guard of Gold Dollar alumni have been less and less into the Dirtbombs in the past few years. It's clear just by seeing who comes up to our shows. And I do not take it personally. But if I asked them face-to-face what they thought of the Dirtbombs, nine times out of ten I'd get bullshit. And that itself is bullshit.
What I'm saying is this: for a music scene in a city this size, with such a vacant, population in the throws of poverty, everyone needs to wholeheartedly and actively support the bands that they cherish. It's too easy to be a passive fan and we are all guilty of that. There almost seems to be a level of pride associated with how detached one can be while still being "inside." Shit like "I haven't seen the Electric Six since Joe and Steve and Anthony quit" or "The last Dirtbombs record I bought was 'Ultraglide.'"
I understand that a lot of this crowd has gotten older. A lot of the players have had to grow-up, get jobs and live like adults. And this has resulted in a lot of cop-outs. So what if you can't pound the Stroh's like you used to? It doesn't mean you can't check out a gig on a weeknight. Try watching bands without drinking…maybe then you'll realize what's actually been going on all this time.
Adult. followed the Hard Lessons. I think I started to see them live at precisely the wrong time in their career, right before Anxiety Always came out and right when they started shying away from the demonstrable classics of Resuscitation. As they've returned to performing as a duo, they've got the experimentation of D.U.M.E. behind them and promise to be more focused on Why Bother?
"Dispassionate Furniture" stood out as a slightly intelligible shell of it's recorded self. The best comment I heard all night was that there should be subtitles for Adult. The mix in the room was questionable the entire night. The Majestic is a weird room to begin with. But Nikola's vocals were practically indecipherable the entire time.
A brief respite in the Garden Bowl during a Dorkwave DJ set left me non-plussed. Throw on a bunch of Eighties hits…"Little Red Corvette", "Holiday" by Madonna, "Groove is in the Heart" by Dee-Lite and getting hipster indie kids to dance is like shooting water in a barrel. How does Dorkwave get so much press and praise? It's not like they've reinvented the wheel. Or even done something that any halfway-decent iPod on shuffle couldn't take care of itself. Is anyone else in town doing anything remotely similar to this? Or are there just too many lazy people with better record collections sitting back and criticizing how they could do so much better? Myself included.
Then again, this is all just my opinion. I could be wrong.