Live records, by definition and track record, haven’t been the best way to meet a band. But over the years they’ve provided career-defining moments for many a rock ‘n’ roll outfit — Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokan and KISS Alive both spring to mind. Raw and Rare might be that strange example of both ideal entrée and peak performance. Better still, as a stop-gap between the band’s 2001 debut Lack of Communication and their upcoming Jerry Harrison-produced, Sire records bow, it further distances the quartet from their Detroit garage-rock-hype beginnings. And it is a rare joy, indeed, to hear a road-tightened band catch full stride on a record that consistently gets all parties (audience included) worked into a lather as the VB’s take on “It Came from Japan” and “Vacant as a Ghost” (the former so much that they included it twice).
When Raw and Rare succeeds, it does so because everything’s red-lined and the dudes minding the board aren’t afraid to let Don Blum’s punishing, tireless skin-beating carry the day. After all, what good is a rhythm and blues band if they can’t flaunt their rhythm? And with Blum and stoic bassist Carrie Smith holding it down, there’s much that’s irresistible here.
And the record does manage to capture Stollsteimer in full-on gut-wrenching vocal howl; his pipes seemingly handed down from Jeffrey Lee Pierce via the Oblivians (whose “R&R Nurse” is included here) and the throttled psychosis of Bantam Rooster’s Tom Potter. And that’s both compliment and detriment. The Von Bondies proudly wave the blues-punk banner, beating primal holy hell out of the same chord progressions you’ve heard a thousand times and wearing the formula thin. Stumbles include the Marcie Bolen-sung “My Baby’s Cryin’” which aims for Exene Cervenka/Kelly Hogan but lands just shy of an exhausted Cindy Wilson. Over the course of 15 tracks, the boogie gets a little beat if you’re not drinking along. And there are, as with all travelers along the blues-rock-punk path, a fair smattering of clichés and overly emotive self-loathing (one is never sure how to answer the perennial bloozeman fave inquiry “Do you like the way I walk?” but still ...).
Small critical piddlings for the faithful huffing the Bondies’ fumes, to be sure, but let’s call a spade a spade — the Bondies are at their heart a drinker’s booze ‘n’ blooze band reclaiming broken-hearted public musings from the emo shits who themselves cribbed it from the blues. And when the band is rocking in its mid-festival slot on their inevitable domestic tour of summer sheds next summer, we will have evidence of what heights a bar band is capable of scaling just before another hundred thousand people catch wind of the action.
So even if the Harrison-helmed Pawn Shoppe Heart never sees the light of day, we now have evidence that the Von Bondies did their best work lurking in the shadows of night.
E-mail Chris Handyside at firstname.lastname@example.org.