by Jeff Milo
We started rambling about nostalgia and the inspirational-echo-chambers of music communities as we people-watched the suburban shufflers and scarfed-up peacoat professionals bluster in and bluster out for their morning fixes.
There's a concert coming up - one that encourages oneupmanship and envelope-pushing.
The chieftain of the Loco Gnosis multimedia collective and I are talking about Muddy Waters, about Howling Wolf, about Elmore James and the heyday era for Chicago Blues, the 1940's...back when all the Delta musicians started moving up into the northern enclave and how Waters eventually assembled the best band in town, known as "The Headhunters" - who wound up strutting into different clubs on their nights off to instigate, intimidate and insinuate their way onto the stage - their edge in talent, charisma and magnetism prevailing - as they took over the sets of various house bands.
Thus, Loco Gnosis' latest live production adopts that theme - 10 Detroit bands going toe for toe, set for set, between dueling stages up in the Park Bar, the last band whose head still sits on their shoulders -wins. (Saturday, 1/14 - 9pm - $7).
It'll be refreshing, a fun kind of ferocity, to have a night where bands can cease clicking the "like" buttons on each other's respective updated song streams and instead click the 'bullshit...' button, -intoning: 'We can do it better."
"I know this sounds cliche," says Howitt (who sings/strums in Duende) "but this is a Kick-Out-The-Jams-style town; I think that kind of wild competitiveness is healthy."
Howitt had initially wanted to invite bands for whom he held distinct differences -for those who seem to only "dust themselves off" opening for big touring-band gigs. "I wouldn't want to argue with them or say their band sucks," said Howitt, "I would want to just stand their with our guitars and sonically worry you; ambush them."
When Headhunters came together, though, Howitt decided instead to select bands he considers the cream of the crop in terms of inventive, aggressive and full-on-exciting local bands: Bars of Gold, Passalacqua, The High Strung, The Electric Lions, Phantom Cats, Ferndale Acid Scene, Joey & the Traitors, Lizerrd, Duende and the Ruiners.
Howitt rolls: "You gonna out-ruin the Ruiners? Out-pass Passalacqua? Out-gold Bars of Gold? Out-string the High Strung?"
But, perhaps it's time to explore: Is the music scene in Detroit as competitive as it once was?
"Anytime I've referred to the 'my band is better than your band' cliche," says J.R. (singer-keyboardist of Ferndale Acid Scene and notorious fight-picking blogger via the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre) "it has been based off of a preconceived negative opinion...used as a weapon."
J.R.'s view - many of the bands on this Headhunter bill actually already have his respect. His competitive long-knives are slashed for bands he feels "move the scene backwards. Fuck (those) band(s)."
The Headhunters line-up is "another feather in Howitt's cap," J.R. said, "having his ear to the ground and the likability to orchestrate such an event. You have just about every genre covered with the exception of crunkwave and bitcore... you'll have all these different ideas coming together once, twice and maybe even thrice, fucking themselves into one giant sonically architectured monolith that will be so massive that it will soon overshadow the fucking glad-handed joke that is the Magic Stick Rock Lottery."
Hip-hop trio Passalacqua are essentially the "rap ambassadors" of the night. For both Mister (Bryan Lackner) and Brent ("Blaksmith") Smith, they see showing your ego as an inherently celebrated aspect of hip-hop music, thus "giving Mister and I a slight edge," said Blaksmith, in the competitiveness department.
That's inevitably part of it, Mister agrees. "Why else would you be an MC, why would you get up there if you didn't tink you had something to say, unless you really thought you were the best."
That strange kind of envy any band, writer or artist will surge with, when they view another band/writer/artists' work, always spurs them forth to their own stage/canvas/typewriter to try to out-do them, to out-string, out-ruin, do it better, do it best!
Competitiveness will always be there, in a music community, says Smith (also of Cold Men Young). It's "Alpha-Doggery, posturing, positioning..."
"Friendly competition is a great thing," said Brandon Moss, drummer for Bars of Gold. "I dig this type of stuff because I can't help but find it fun. There's plenty of times I see someone in town do something just great that makes me want to give up or trump them at their own game - in essence, makes me want to just work harder at what I do."
It's delicate, though, Moss said. You have to approach this sort of show-off seminar as constructive in nature, and not nasty/catty challenges.
It can be inspiring, said Mister. "The only reason people say (Passalacqua) is as good as we are live is becuase of all the people playing in this city. When I saw Marco Polio & the New Vaccines at the Blowout, 2010, I thought: what am I doing? I gotta re-assess. And ever since, I always ask: 'What more can we do?' Why don't we add this or try that or get back-up singers or have a live drummer or maybe wear masks?"
"Can we keep up with these bands?" Mister asks, thinking to himself with a palpable tinge of excitement. "If it's a battle-mentality, as in hip-hop, then really you're just trying to win over the audience. Not to focus on being better than the other band but addressing and winning over the audience, asking them: like, c'mon! Aren't we better?"
"We can do that."
Rick (Lappin) Ruiner of psychedelic-garage rockers The Ruiners, enters his band's fifteenth year of performing with an admittance that its hard to feel that ol' competitive edge after "being under the radar, locally, for so many years. Much of our successes and notoriety has come from recognition outside."
It's more fun, anyways, Rick said, to focus instead on the "spectacular moments life hands us and opportunities to enjoy people while they are still with us. I'm glad to have pushed myself as hard as I could and cheered others on while they did the same."
That said, Ruiner concluded a round-table multi-cc'ed interview with: "In another 15 years, nobody will care who played the best guitar solo...wait, make that 15 minutes."
To which Blaksmith replied: "Good point, Rick, but that's all we need is 15 minutes of shine..."
"Right on," Rick nodded back, "looking forward to watching you all tear it up!"
Back at the bagel shop, Howitt said, with a glint in his eye, "I want to smash every band I play with, in a friendly way."
Later on in Spring time, Duende will release an album that features a handful of songs collaborating with Mister and one song with Blaksmith, including a duet with Kate Hinote of the Blueflowers.
Mister, meanwhile, is cooking up a handful of EPs.
More news as it happens.