Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lord I Love the Black Lips...

This piece was originally published in Plan B magazine last year. I wrote most of it while the Black Lips were opening for the Dirtbombs on a month-long tour out to the West Coast and through the plains of Canada. As Plan B isn't found too easily here in America, I thought I'd put it up here in anticipation of their Detroit show this Friday. Looking back, it doesn't read as well as I'd remembered. But I could really give a shit.

The Black Lips are total white trash. Find them pissing on stage with song titles like “Everybody Loves a Cocksucker” and it’s sure enough to offend even the most liberal supporters of the arts. Strangely enough, they are complete country gentlemen at the same time, all charm and grace and complete sincerity. It is a band like this, full of paradoxes and contradictions and sheer unexplainables that makes rock music exciting and dangerous and unpredictable and all those lies it has always promised us it could be.

Cole is a dead ringer for Paul McCartney on the gatefold of Sgt. Pepper’s… complete with push-broom mustache and endearing dark hair helmet. Onstage he’s like a child imitating Jimi Hendrix…all the so-called parlor tricks, playing with his teeth, lunging microphone forward with his feet, bending at the knees and extending the guitar out like an over-sized phallus screaming out fuzz from it’s urethra pickups.

Jared is the cutest of the bunch (they all kinda have those faces you just wanna make out with). Bred from a long line of prominent Southern preachers, Tammy Faye Baker used to baby-sit him and he was the main objector to the working title for Let it Bloom, a reappropriation of a Lester Bangs claim, “Last of the White Niggers”. The Swilley’s were big supporters of the civil rights movement in the American South, and an album with that title pretty much meant he’d never be able to talk to his family again. If you’re adventurous, search out recordings by the Swilley Family, proper country-gospel from the 60’s and 70’s that Jared describes as “not half-bad”.

Ian is the missing link. As the band’s fourth guitarist, it’s clear he’s the one who should’ve been there all along. He’s the Brian Jones in the rock solid Mick/Keef dichotomy of Cole and Jared. He’s arguable also the most skilled musician of the bunch (arguably because Joe is a classically trained pianist, but I get the feeling he likes to stay behind the drums just for the challenge.)

Ian joined the band the day before the start of a tour opening for Sky Saxon and the Seeds. Cole taught him most of the songs in the back of the van…

“This song is E, D, A,” Cole would say. And then “this song is a little different, it’s E, A, D.” All Ian could say to himself was “these guys are fucking brilliant.”

Ian is also known for the removable gold caps or “grill” he puts over his teeth. It’s such a confusing merging of dirty Southern garage rock and still tippin’ screwed up Southern hip hop that I can’t help but be enamored by the audacity and absurdity of it. Oh yeah, and he supposedly bought the grill with aid money he got after Hurricane Katrina.

But before I can get all up in arms, I hear one of the Lips latest compositions “Oh Katrina” whose entire lyrics are as follows:

Oh Katrina, why you gotta be mean?
You stole my heart way down in New Orleans
I can’t believe what I saw on the TV screen
Oh Katrina why can’t you be serene?

The song is all clumsy drums and whirling fuzz lines. It is by far the most accurate approximation of a modern day Back From the Grave-style since the Gories busted out “Drowning” in 1992. The Black Lips hope to release the song on a New Orleans label and to donate any profits from its sale to charity.

Joe is the organized one. He drives the van, deals with promoters and basically makes sure everything works as smoothly as possible. Up until not too long ago he could be found tuning Cole’s guitar in the middle of a set…if only because Cole had no idea how to do so. His drummer face looks like he’s undergoing electroshock treatment. He writes more songs and is responsible for the band’s sound more than any other drummer I’ve ever met. But he’s decidedly in the background.

The Black Lips have their roots in a high school band called the Renegades that all the current members were in at one point or another. There’s a posthumous 7” that gives you the entire unexciting stereotypical teenage punk rock riff rehash. The only relevant story about the Renegades I can pull out of them is that both Cole and Jared sprayed Binaca on their dicks and set them on fire during one performance. Cole made the mistake of covering his dick with Gak (children’s goo part Silly Putty and part calf liver) and it quickly turned into a melting mess.

And there also begins the most relayed legend about the Black Lips…their insane onstage antics find Cole vomiting, pissing into his own mouth, spitting in the air and catching it on his face and sometimes using his cock as a guitar pick. While it’s so easy to get caught up in the outrageousness of it all, more often than not this becomes the focus of people’s attention. And it’s a damn shame because there’s so much more.

Cole is the first to admit “It’s so fucking stupid,” regarding the pissing, “it’s lame and I hate it but it gets SUCH a reaction from the crowd.”

When the Black Lips get drunk at a Best Western in Denver after a 13-hour drive through a blizzard that’s essentially shutdown the state of Kansas, (and even then, only to play two songs) they’re overly excited to watch their limited-edition tour DVD. Filmed while the band was on the West Coast in 2005 recording Let it Bloom it finds them in the van and in the studio and captures all the general shenanigans one can expect from a bunch of kids in their early twenties with a never-ending supply of beer.

But there’s also a terribly heartwarming scene in the DVD that has Black Lips performing in a small apartment in San Francisco. All of the attendees are underage kids who couldn’t get into the Lips 21+ bar show. The band holler lyrics without microphones, Joe plays with towels covering his drums, and the room is packed tight with frantic teenagers reveling in the excitement and generally losing their shit. The gig seems so totally uncharacteristic of how these guys are perceived, so for them to pull it off makes me wanna crawl up and give them a collective hug, tell them they’re doing everything right, to fuckin’ forget those assholes who focus on their onstage tomfoolery, to just follow their instincts as they’ve proven to be spot on so far.

Ian, Joe, Cole and Jared all agree that it was easily the best and most fun show they ever played.

After some brew Cole and Jared are quick to name their idols…and this night would find at least these mentioned: Billy Miller and Miriam Linna both of A-Bones/Norton Records fame. Los Saicos, relatively unknown South American garage punk that the Black Lips have taken LOADS of inspiration from, Darin Raeffelli, frontman for long-forgotten nineties acts Supercharger and the Brentwoods (better known for penning songs for the Donnas) and some dude from Seattle punk-scuzzers the Spits (prominently featured in the DVD).

But all members would say that their initial infatuation with the Sixties punk sound was via Van Morrison’s Them. From there, a logical progression came about…slowly being turned onto things like the Back From the Grave compilation series on Crypt Records, an eight volume collection of pure outta tune, untalented 1960’s teen punk howling that is the most accurate blueprint of how the Black Lips came to sound the way they do.

But other styles creep in unexpectedly…songs like “Born to Be a Man” and “Make It” are good ‘ole hillbilly country style a la Buck Owens or an obscure Carl Perkins b-side on Sun. And with “Hippy Hippie Hooray”, the disarmingly brilliant cover of the Jacques Dutronc song where the decidedly austere arrangement proves these degenerates can actually transform a song and turn it into their own. And don’t forget the crowd-favorite “Dirty Hands” a Spector-ish romp that apes on the Beatles and asks, bordering on sheer dumbfounded from the narrator’s point-of-view, “Do you really want to hold my dirty hands?”

Their most recent tour ends with an unexpected spot opening for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak. The Lips boys are beyond excited and Cole’s take on the whole situation is simply, “I’m viewing this show purely as a publicity stunt.”

So the Black Lips hop on stage a half-hour after doors open and are facing a fairly empty room (capacity is roughly 4500) of a couple hundred day-glo clad suburban Karen O wannabes squished up to the front barrier plaintively waiting for Yeahs. It is still the biggest crowd they’ve ever faced.

What those hipster teenagers get is twenty minutes of pure distilled brilliance.

The Lips cut any dead weight from the set. Surprisingly, all three of the YYY’s are sitting stage right and fully taking in the spectacle. Ending the set with the quintessential Black Lips song “Freakout” finds Ian lighting a pack of Black Cats as they dangle from his mouth, only to get looks of pure horror from the unexpecting teens. He spits up some blood and then crosses the stage to lock tongues with Cole. This act of pure homophobe baiting seems to draw the most ire from the crowd. And like that the show is over. In a show of irony, self-deprecation, giving the finger or whatever you want call it, the Lips boys venture out back on stage with white towels around their necks, holding one another’s hands. And they bow. The classic arena-rock goodbye.

The YYY’s are all totally blown away…dispensing many hugs and loads of praise. Their tour manager and assorted higher-up’s from the venue are none-too-pleased. The band is immediately kicked out of the club, their gear quickly loaded outside by the union grunts. The tour manager even takes to lecturing the guys (“What made you think you could do this?” “You ever ask permission?” “Heard of a fire code?”) to which they just shrug their shoulders in a Dennis the Menace “sorry mister” sort of way. But they mean no apology.

In a fit of sheer ingenuity, the Lips sneak back into the club (by lying to security and saying they were Blood on the Wall, the other opening band) and are able to witness Karen O wear a Black Lips sticker on her chest during the entire YYY’s performance. These boys are content. Everything was worthwhile.

The Black Lips had again found themselves in front of a room of teenagers, but their performance was the complete polar opposite. And yet, it worked. The Black Lips made sense. In their world this is something to behold. The Black Lips have learned to both transcend and embrace their contradictions. It is now time for everyone else to transcend their own reservations and embrace the Black Lips.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Setlist for DJ the Dirtbombs...

Here's what I personally spun at the Belmont last night as part of the first ever "DJ the Dirtbombs" extravaganza. Pantano pulled some Lee Rogers, Happy Supply, Ike and Tina, the Miracles, Curtis Mayfield, Bush Tetras, etc. Mick showed up late and rocked some of the Prisoners, David Jones and the Lower Third and I can't remember what else. Big-ups to the free candy from the Bellyache Candyshopppe that kept me motoring all night. Check 'em out at

Everything I played was on 7" 45rpm vinyl. Anything else would be uncivilized.

Jacques Dutronc "Le Responsable" Disques Vogue
A national legend on par with Jerry Lewis in France and virtually unknown most everywhere else, Dutronc has some stone-cold fuzzed out jams. This is one of his best.

The Chain Reaction "When I Needed You" Date
Young Steven Tallarico on drums would later howl "Walk This Way" as Steven Tyler in Aerosmith. The Greenhornes do a nasty version of this.

The Johnny Otis Show "Castin' My Spell" Capitol
I only know of this song because the Gories covered it.

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band "Diddy Wah Diddy" A&M
Old man Van Vliet swamp rocks this outta sight. I thought it was a Blind Blake song so why is songwriting credited to A. Christensen?

Patti Page "Conquest" Mercury
A massive orchestral production that sounds like it should be the soundtrack to a huge 1940's Hollywood film. You will become familiar with this shortly.

The Equals "I Can See But You Don't Know" President
These cats don't enough respect.

Pat Lewis "Love's Creeping Up On Me" Detroit Stars
Floor-filler. The dancing was outta sight.

The Moving Sidewalks "99th Floor" Wand
Pre-ZZ Top garage madness. Killer.

The Primitives "The Ostrich" Dickwick City
Lou Reed and Company ape on the Spector Wall of Sound and hilarity/genius ensues. Essential.

Question Mark and the Mysterians "Hang In" Super K
Mick stated this could very well not even be the Mysterians on this song. There's no vocals for this Kasenetz/Katz collab and it's almost too heavy to be the kids from Saginaw. But we dig it just the same.

Les Problemes "On S'en Fout" Disques Vogue
Recommended by the dude at the Juke Box Shop in Brussels. He's got a fine ear.

Doni Burdick "Candle" Soul King
But of course.

The Shaggs "Hummin" Power (Flower Power?)
The Porter/Hayes song popularized (for me) by the Reigning Sound's version on Too Much Guitar while this version borders on psych-funk. I have no idea where these Shaggs were from. Any leads?

Peaches featuring Iggy Pop "Kick It" XL
My favorite Peaches track. Iggy sounds like he's making up his lyrics on the spot.

The Troggs "Strange Movies" Pye
Matt Smith said he's been looking for this single for 20 years. He's certainly not looking hard enough.

The Yardbirds "Think About It" Epic
Was tempted to spin "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" (or even "I'm Sick of You" by the Stooges) but Page's twisted leads on this one were too tasty to ignore.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Friends of the Diddlers and Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs...

March 14th, 2007

Didn't know what to expect from the Diddlers. With a band banner covering the electric keyboard I was intrigued. The vocal symmetry offered by Audra Kubat and the Lucas sisters was serene. Like the song on the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack where they sing "Go to sleep you little baby…you and me and the devil make three" all angelic and leave you in a heavenly daze.

Individually, Audra's voice hit on more than a few Chan Marshall moments. I liked that. She also made her fair share of interesting faces in the process, me overhearing it described as "…looking for the wrong note". Loretta Lucas holds a much higher timbre and thus sounds happier. Her sister Julie falls in-between the two and all together it is refreshing.

The instrumentation was varied and in constant rotation. There was a ukulele, a washboard, a shaky maraca-type thing, a few guitars and a violin. Not to forget the aforementioned keyboard and the solid Mark Craven banjo/guitar core of it all.

They covered a Dolly Parton song and that was the highlight of their set…I just can't remember what song it was. The cover of Jimmie Rodgers' "Mule Skinner Blues" was swingin' as well. And the originals weren't too shabby either. They performed flawlessly and in front of a sizeable crowd for a Wednesday night.

I've seen Holly Golightly at least five times and every time she has a slightly different band. Surprisingly, she is the epitome of consistency. Tonight found her performing as a two-piece. Lawyer Dave (usually just her bass player on US soil) had become a veritable one-man backing band. Surrounded by a plethora of guitars he was also operating a bass drum, a snare drum, a hi-hat, a cowbell and a crash cymbal(I think?) with his feet. And he sang backup too.

His execution was anything but clunky. Lawyer Dave was as fluid and reliable as any stand-alone drummer (including usual Golightly cohort Bruce Brand) could hope to be. None of this stereotypical "kick-snare-kick-snare" one-man band lameness. I was duly impressed.

The performance itself was standard low-key Golightly fare. Her comforting vocal twang paired with deft and familiar blues guitar was charming perfection. I don't think anyone left disappointed. They showcased a few songs from the new record You Can't Buy a Gun When You're Crying (written and recorded in four days with this band configuration and a brilliant album title to boot) that's reliably consistent with the rest of her solo back catalog.

That's refreshing too. In a way, a fan can hardly criticize an artist they appreciate for doing the same thing. Consistency in any other field…selling cars, brain surgery, mowing lawns, is lauded and strived for. In music, if you make the same album twice you'll never hear the end of it. Why is this? A band would sooner get respect for regurgitating drivel that someone ELSE did first than for repeating their own earlier work. Do painters or sculptors get flak for the same thing? I'm highly curious about this whole situation.

And do the Ramones get shit or respect for having never changed? Who else is in this category?
I think the ability to create with unwavering variation should be praised. And here's hoping that Holly has a bevy of these blues ballads still burning in her belly.

Alliteration, on the other hand, is the tool of the ignorant.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Singles Column Volume Eight with Local Detroit Supplement...

Pink Mountaintops “Single Life” Jagjaguwar
Where Axis of Evol was an acoustic “play once and file away” misstep after their impeccable self-titled album rife with rockstar jamz a la Spacemen 3, what we get here is more of those sleazy, mountain fucking moments. A-side pummels with low-end bass drum drive and cheesy Suicide style organ wheedles. Flip is low-key acoustic ballad much more memorable than Axis and wanders into Alice Cooper “Dwight Fry” territory. Choice.

Car Commercials “Jar” Leaf Leaf Records
Featuring Dan from Home Blitz, “Make Me See Joanne” is spooked piano fumbling with no room for structure and sounds like someone just bought their first Jandek record. “Holland” shows some promising moments of thuggy git strum, but (though?) the drums never properly lock in. That could precisely be the point though. Flip starts with “Water” warped tape manipulation and “Rest Stop” is more Corwood Industries-worthy anti-talent. Just don’t get me started on their limited-edition lathe-cut split 78 with King Dwarves that comes with 3 bonus lathe-cut records (two of them on cardboard Coin Recordio Gram discs). That shit is intense.

Wax Museums “Claw You Like a Cat” HoZac Records
Do bands like this grow on trees? Passable punk reminiscent of Clone Defects at their speedy moments (“Cheetah Eyes” particularly). But the mix is so generic…I feel something on here should pop out at me, yet nothing does. If you’re gonna play punk like this you gotta add something new to the mixture and the Wax Museums fail to do so. B-side cover of the Vomit Pigs “Babys Playin Games” works while the sing-along chorus of “Jakoff Rat” is the highlight here. I expect something a little more distinctive from the HoZac crew.

Yellow Swans/Goslings Not Not Fun Singles Club January
Do yellow swans even exist in nature? Or would they just be swans that are soaked in their own urine? Yellow Swans track “1.” is static-heavy vocal-less noise with occasional audible bass notes. This is what urinating into a contact mic sounds like.

Goslings with “Saw-Horse” presents the same phantom fuzz build-up on your needle. My gut reaction is this is supposed to spin at 33rpm, but at 45 it makes a lot more sense. Usually the vocals are my guide as to speed choice when none’s listed, but “Saw-Horse” is perplexing in that at 33 the vocals sound proper and all the music sounds slowed down to the speed of the earth’s plate tectonic shifting. And at 45rpm, the vocals sound way too sped up, but the instruments sound logical. It’s probably a 45, but have fun playing it at 33 to decipher the vocals.

Goslings totally win as they at least had the balls to name their song and pony-up with something remotely musical.

GHQ/Ex-Cocaine Not Not Fun Singles Club February

GHQ features Pete Nolan of my infatuees Magik Markers. Sprawling atmosphero jams with what sounds like a use of bell trees. I’m curious as to how bands like this “create”, as it were. Does someone ever tell someone else in the band what they’re doing is wrong/bad/out of place? Or do they all just roll with it like Steve Winwood? This was recorded live in Seattle. I’m sure whoever was at the show will totally not even remember so because this is so forgettable.

Ex-Cocaine is a drums and drums two-piece. They win already. Dig that NNF has hipped me to some out-there shit in the world of noise percussion outfits. Does anyone have a copy of the Rhythm Chicken 7” while we’re at it? The world needs more ‘just drums’ stuff. One day I’ll release a 12” of myself playing the beat to “Scentless Apprentice” for an hour straight. Rawk.


The W-Vibe “Hi-Bouncer” Top Quality Rock and Roll
Forgotten duo that never seemed to fit in anywhere in this town. Did you know the “W” in their name stands for the Who? True story. “Hi-Bouncer” was a live favorite…always (sometimes?) accompanied by a flurry of superballs tossed into the crowd. I don’t quite hear that on this recording. Instead, you get lo-tech ploppy synth keyboards with lyrics that are (fully) “Hi-bouncer, bouncing ball” and a song that is fairly uneventful with its campy canned electro percussion. B-side “Candy Cane” is exciting pseudo hardcore that clocks in at less than sixty seconds while “Candy Coated Laughter” recalls a low-rent version of a song you’d find as a hidden bonus track on a Beck record. Got mine for $6.99 and it’s not worth it (though if mine had the custom W-Vibe superball with it I’d be all smiles). Now if they’d have thrown in their live cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” then we might have something.

The Displays “Baby Just Go Away” D-wrEcked-hiT Records
Glad to finally see this thing out. Sadly, after seeing them live it feels like these recordings are light years behind what the band has evolved into. A nice and dirty early document of the band, but bet good money the next record kills. It’s adept teen garage punk without any frills. Thumbs up for bassist Andrew Hecker sporting a Dirtbombs “Blackula” t-shirt on the back cover as that image alone is worth the price of purchase.

The Sirens The Sirens are Dead Wiped-Out Records
Different versions than those featured on their More is More full-length on MuSick. “Tear Me Down” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch is cleverly reworked to reference Detroit and specifically 8 Mile Road, the ’67 Riots and everyone’s favorite mayor named Kwame. “Tumble With Me” is a Hollywood Brats/Boys cover and is pristine glamtastic gold. The flip of Bowie’s “Rock and Roll Suicide” is a song that is impossible to do injustice to.

The whole purpose behind the Sirens is just to have some fun and to look any further or deeper is to completely miss the point.

The Fondas “Make You Mine” Sympathy for the Record Industry
I prefer them on record as opposed to live and this slab sounds like their best yet. A-side is robust with its standard Kinks-ian ‘slide your hand up and down the guitar neck, repeat, lyrics about insomnia (optional), wicked solo from Dave and it’s a wrap’ style. Flip of “In Your Room” is chugging bass/drums combo that could be that long lost Parallel Lines b-side. On peachy-keen colored vinyl.

Whirlwind Heat with Lightspeed Champion Lightspeed Heat Brille

When I hear “How Do You Do” I think of the Dave Grohl solo song of the same name on the soundtrack for the movie Touch that was my reason for being for a week or two in high school. So it’s also strange that I’m somewhat reminded of the Foo Fighters (who’s debut album guitar tone is matched here, intentional or not) with this collab between the boys Heat and a member of Test Icicles.

The seductive “oooo-ooo-oooo-oooooo” (rhymes with “woo-woo-woo-woo”) alternating with the song’s title sung as a chorus provide for a truly catchy romp. This is radio-friendly to the max (supposedly charted in the UK) and is really just a song about a car breaking your heart. Genius.

B-side “My Dreams” is lullaby-ic (am I hearing their Weezer infatuation slip in here?) and it’s clear adding a guitar does wonders to the trio. The first show the Heat did as a threesome (early 2002 at the Lagerhouse) was a bit of a let-down…they were obviously still figuring it out and there was a lot of empty space that still needed to be dealt with. But they grew into a fierce unit afterwards and didn’t look back. I pulled out the WWH Free Lance demos yesterday that were recorded when they still had a guitar player. ‘Twas some noisy Contortions-like skronk going on back then. Lightspeed’s guitar here is nothing of the sort and that’s not a bad thing.

For what amounts to a fun goof-off done in a day, this single is deceptively great. Recommended.

Solid Solution “Think About it Girl” Soul-O-Sonic Records
Schlocky soul from ‘78 bordering on disco original thought to be LP-only (on Silver Spoon) but apparently 45’s do exist and are rare as me actually caring about this stuff. I do not understand how people dig this. Oh well. Fry it.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Blowout Finale...

Friday, March 9th 2007

I played it safe. Was only going to the K of C to see the Go. Caught a little bit of Outrageous Cherry. I've never been able to get into them and this night would prove no different. Can't put my finger on what I don't dig about it though. Might be Matt Smith's voice. Larry Ray (who can simultaneously be nicknamed Larry Cherry or Outrageous Larry) actually, I just wanted to say those nicknames. But they've got a song in the new Black Snake Moan soundtrack (a cover of Junior Kimbrough's "Lord Have Mercy on Me") and it's nice to see them get some recognition.

The Go were predictably great. They've got all their ducks in a row leading up to the release of Howl on the Haunted Beat You Ride and the live show remains stellar. While "Grow'd Up Wrong" was still missing from the set I have no further complaints. The pace and trajectory of their performance was proper…not so much reliance on songs from the first album as before. And the crowd seemed passionate…the kids up front singing along and lots of hands in the air. Multi-camera video crew scoping the whole thing for what I only assume is…uh, a future video? Rich Hansen slyly pulling down two Metro Times Blowout banners on the wall behind the band was funny, I'm sure it was all for the mise en scene, right? And toward the end of the set Rich getting worked up like he was gonna clock someone down in front, later relayed to me as "just knowing how to be intimidating." Sure Rich, whatever lets you sleep at night.

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

Tim Vulgar at Record Graveyard. I was really tempted to buy a 12" copy of Young MC's "Pick Up the Pace" hiding lonely in the racks. Hopefully it's still there…and that none of you are closeted Young MC fans hoping to beat me to the prize.

Timmy solo unaccompanied with a sappy Syd Barrett ballad was quite believable. Another song with the lyrics "This man needs his medicine, he needs it more than oxygen" is still memorable as I write about it days later. Was unsure what to expect of the band (Sean Elwood on bass, some kid named Ben on drums) but they decimated the place. Elwood had some kinda pedal that gave his rig a choice tone. And the kid Ben (from Indiana? Here for art school?) is a head-slamming skin-basher. Reminded me of early Dead Meadow, you know, before they got really into heroin. And also bit of Blue Cheer. Just heavy enough to put it beyond punk, weird enough to elevate it past psych and loosey-goosey where you smile a lot 'cause you know they're still just figuring it out themselves. Seeing bands at this stage, their first few shows, without a name even, is such an exciting treat. They ended the set with a (sort-of) cover of Radio Birdman's "Murder City Nights" and it shredded with wonderful feral abandon. Y'all need to check this out. I shouldn't have expected anything less…

A quick drive up Campau to the New Dodge for the Displays. I saw these kids at 1515 Broadway over the summer and it was cute. They covered "Steady, As She Goes" and were clearly nervous in trying to find themselves onstage. What I saw on Saturday was a completely different band. Punks were like seasoned pros, climbing on amps, not looking at their hands when they played, striking the rock poses, bantering with the crowd and whipping up a frenzy.

When bassist Andrew Hecker dipped into the crowd hollering "You never listen to a word I say" to subsequently thrust the mic into various audience members' faces for the refrain "come on baby just go away" it was innocently wild. Accosted by the mic, I did the only thing I think I do well and let out a vein-busting scream. I think it went over quite well. And ending the set by tossing 7" singles into the crowd (their debut release on the D-wrEcked-hiT label) is always a class act. These juvies became lethal in a matter of months and that is what's so exciting about young bands…the strides they can make in such a short time (essentially maturing onstage for everyone to see) are electrifying.

A quick hop over to the Holbrook Café for shits and giggles. I didn’t even know who was playing and was geeked to find it was Esquire. The club was jumping, allaying any fears set in motion there on Thursday. Esquire was alright…my problem with his live shows is that you never can hear the lyrics too well. The backing tracks do make up for it though, but where was the track with the Monks "Complication" sample? Ah well, "Brandy and Xanax" is bona fide and the upcoming single "Linda Lovelace for President" was fun.

Slumber Party followed and I only caught a song or two. It was what I'd come to expect from them, lazy songs mired in the melancholy vocal delivery. Not my bag, but kinda glad someone's doing it, you know?

Over to the Belmont and there's a crowd outside the door. Not a good sign. With the club at capacity (a first in any of my Blowout experiences of the past nine years) there were only letting one person in for every one person walking out. With no patience for such Fire Code tomfoolery, I recon 'round back and find both the back door to the patio and the door from the patio to the club wide-fucking-open. I'm not going to lie, I felt like motherfucking Magellan. Went back round front and tried to slyly tell Chris from the Terrible Twos and his girlfriend we could get in that way. But of course, I end up the Pied Piper of Hamlin with all these music-starved freaks in tow.

We all squeeze in with ease. Onstage, Lee Marvin Computer Arm are on fire. I'd only ever seen them twice before (once opening for Weird War at the Stick on a Sunday night, ie, not the right time or place) but tonight they proved to be possessed. I had no idea they drew such a crowd and no idea that crowd was so die-hard. It was packed and no one seemed to mind. With the opening vocal "WOOOOO-OOOOOOOOOHHH!" of "Spiritual Man" the room was enraptured. The snare drum was just low enough in the mix to free up the kick drum to propel the song. And that tangy guitar lick reminiscent of the Yardbirds "Heart Full of Soul" is sublime. The whoops and hollers that crescendo to the end of the song are riveting. They've got a self-released 7" that'll be available at their upcoming show at the Lager in April and I'm atwitter with anticipation.

It's a great feeling to end the weekend with.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Thursday Night 3-8-07 Hamsandwich Blowout

Lonely listening to Joanna Newsom "Ys" on the drive to the Knights of Columbus. The unaccompanied vocal and harp on "Sawdust and Diamonds" is pristine. Newsom's ability to weave together three distinctly separate parts in the same song hits me hard. Is this the triplet approach Dylan's rambles on about in "Chronicles"? See also "Sadie" and specifically the lines about pine cones and digging up bones. I'm a sucker for any song that begins and ends with the same lyrics and Joanna does it effortlessly and "Sawdust and Diamonds" is the perfect example.

Eons sounded like Television? Lead singer with Fender Mustang with soap-bar pick-up looked badass. Arun slammed a crash cymbal off the stand with his fist and acted like nothing happened. They sounded together…I wanna say like Tapes'n'Tapes, or at the very least that some Pitchfork pantywaist would cream his jeans over this. I was very impressed. Tunes on their myspace…not so much.

The Drinking Problem was problematic. All the vocals sounded like they were amplified through an electric razor. I enjoy Eddie more when he's drunk in the Sights. And Dave Lawson when he was barely keeping time in the Metros.

Muldoons…Shane rocked so hard that one of his earplugs flew out of his ear.

Rock and Rummage sale found copy of "Noises from the Garage" with what I believe to be the first ever review of the White Stripes "Let's Shake Hands" as well as the rest of the early Italy product. I'd been searching for this for some time. A steal at $1. Stripes review, by Brian Marshall (who supposedly swore off garage music and dedicated his life to Christianity) goes like this:

"Somewhat new (at least to me) to the no-bass segment of rock 'n' roll (you know, the Oblivians, the Hentchmen, the Revelators, Bantam Rooster, groups like that) are guitarist Jack and drummer Meg White. But while they can kick out the jams with the best of the bunch (the A-side's proof of that and a righteous tune to boot complete with Jack's shrieking vocals and lowdown guitar strummin'), they also have their softer side with a touch of the blues (the B-side, complete with a pumpin' piano). I hope there's more from these folks, cuz I definitely wanna hear it."

Over to the Holbrook Café for the Beehive Recording Showcase spectacular. Newsom's vocals soothe in the car as my headlights are terrifyingly dim. Was Mike Walker in Mule? Can we just say that he was? While "Snowcow" is the best song title I've heard all year, it was incessantly loud in the Holbrook and the fact that it was Cuckold didn't make it any better.

The scene inside was slightly discouraging. Not many people in the room, decorated like a high school dance with balloons tied to the backs of chairs situated around cafeteria-like tables. I couldn't help but wonder if there's only one inherent flaw in the Beehive prospectus…that selling downloads of fairly unknown bands is a hard thing to do. When so many acts are giving away their songs for free via Myspace, will enough people buy into the Beehive family for any of this stuff to make it to a tactile medium? I sincerely hope so as Steve Nawara has poured his heart and soul and "Danger! High Voltage" royalties into this endeavor. And this town can always use more record labels.

Missed Chrome Spiders. Was told they sounded like AC/DC.

The Moonlight were surprisingly great. If Dale Merril can learn to tune his guitar then their "Ponys without the depression skids" sound should win over many. The last thing I'd expect a band with two guys from the Dirtys to sound like.

I had the opportunity to go play dodgeball at my dad's middle school gym class on Friday morning. It was in the back of my mind the entire night as there came an emptiness in my life once dodgeball exited. But the hypotheticals overcame…would I be of sound physical and mental acumen to relive the past glories of my dodgeball days? Would I make a fool of myself? What would I think as a middle schooler playing in gym class against some longhair in his mid-twenties? Do I still have the wicked playground ball curve that I prided myself on in my tweens?

I woke up around 10am, early enough for me to assail a handful of deserving 6th graders. But I collapsed back to rest. The night at Holbrook ended with Eddie Baranek and I literally butting heads, not seeing each other while we leaned in towards the same direction. We both laughed it off hard, but I think he ended up with a bruise on his head and I felt somewhat guilty as I was the sober one and should be a little more aware. I couldn't be held responsible if I broke some kid's leg. And I was almost certain I could do so with a properly placed toss.

My reflexes were not ready and I'd already spent my entire night dodging…table to table, room to room, club to club, Steve-O to Steve-O…perhaps some other time I'll be ready to unleash the assault. This day, I was merely content with having survived.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lessons I Hardly Learned at the Hamtramck Blowout...

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.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Singles Column Volume Seven...

The Covingtons I Hate You Baby Sound Camera Records
Contemporaries of the Gories who’ve just now released a limited (300 copies) single. Typical 80’s garage performances with the song somewhat Stooge-like I Hate You Baby making both a studio and “live” appearance on this single. Cover of the standard No Friend of Mine is overdriven to the point of sounding like a Sub Pop record of the era. The insert, complete with photos and flyer repros, is the most worthwhile thing here. Lots of stories and interviews and a cliffhanger leaving us aching for volume 2.

Lord Galvar/Swimsuit Rights split single, Brittle Records
Uh, I forget why I ordered this. I think I read a descrip of Galvar that seemed interesting. This is hand-numbered in marker #6/30. Limited sleeve? I don’t know. Lord Galvar is reminiscent of Liars They Were Wrong…-era without the inspiration. But I’ve heard it all before. Female vocals? I could give a shit. This is what happens when I wait months before listening to records I mail-order. The first of Swimsuit’s two tracks is quick and forgettable, but the second song…Sad Walk (for Dave) grabs me…noisy, lo-fi with insistent bass, mangled keyboard and feedback for the masses.

The Retainers/Fashionable Idiots split single, Fashionable Idiots Records(?)
Spray-paint stenciled sleeve. Awesome. Shredding competent punk rock. Why haven’t I heard more about the Retainers? Seems like everyone could get into this. Accessible? Sure, why not? The FI song Blue Jean Attack is a certifiable instrumental classic, equal parts superhero theme song and solid Sixties dance beat. Both sides are loud as shit. Recommended.

Standing Nudes When I Arrive True Panther Sounds
A-side is like an effects-ridden Sonic Youth ballad with the femme vox of Saturday Looks Good to Me. Got this single approximately one month after I mail-ordered it, but they threw in a copy of the Strip Mall Seizures CD, I’m assuming as a “sorry”. The flip is boring four-chord wonder until the wah-wah solo peeks its head through the placenta of complacency. If this is their first release we can expect good things from them. If they’ve been at it awhile…it’s time they re-evaluate their life decisions.

The Saboteurs Cement Feet Commodity Fetish Records
The Saboteurs DIY Going Underground Records
These are not 7” releases by the Raconteurs in Australia. Left Coast guitar/vox/drums that sounds like kids goofing off in the garage and coming up with some pretty interesting shit. Lyrics like “Whatever happened to rad people, doing rad things, for rad reasons.” I’m assuming the lack of a question mark has some significance? The Commodity Fetish single comes with an insert with a reading list. Uh, no thanks. I stopped reading when I dropped out of college THANK YOU! T
The GUR single (numbered 23/150 if anyone out there is compiling a database) misses the joie de vivre of Commodity Fetish jams.

Sparks Dick Around In the Red
Dick Around is the best mini-opera of the modern era. The radio edit trims minutes off the running time and remains faithful to the original. B-side Hospitality on Parade recorded live at the Avalon in LA. I can’t believe these guys are label mates with the Dirtbombs.

Samuel L. Jackson Stackolee Paramount Vantage
A surprise freebie from the pressing plant. These are the actual performances from the “Black Snake Moan” movie…I guess. Stackolee is a blue version more-suited to the lascivious Andre Williams vocal style with Blues Hammer slide geetar wailing. The song Black Snake Moan is lonely log cabin confessional with rain pitter-patter background rhythm and rauncy Fat Possum fat git tone. Samuel L. has got some pretty mighty pipes here. I’m impressed.

Black Lips/Demon’s Claws Rolling Stones Tribute Series, Norton Records
The Lips do What to Do and their country efforts are their least impressive. Still, it’s better than any single band in the country today. Demon’s Claws version of Factory Girl is subdued and suited well. The pan flute or whatever woodwind it is spices things up in a reverential way.
When Norton finally puts all these Stones covers on a CD it will prove to be mighty killer. The’s, Greenhornes, Hentchmen, Reigning Sound…pretty much all the essential garage bands you can think of. Another Norton coup.

The Sonics Busy Body Norton Records
Recorded live in Tacoma 1964. Plain and simple, this cooks. While I’m not terribly on top of the Sonics back catalog, I believe this is the first testament to their stage performance and we can safely assume they decimated most crowds that came before them. The Witch on the B-side has vocals a tad low in the mix, but that’s the only criticism worth leveling on this heavenly slab. Do you know how hard Bob Bennett grooves on the skins? Listen here for the answer. Essential, but you already knew that.