Show review: Critical Bill and Rival City Heights at the Diesel Concert Lounge

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Who: Critical Bill and Rival City Heights with guests Cadre, Volcano and the New Radio Standard and Bloodline Riot
Where: Diesel Concert Lounge, Chesterfield
When: Saturday, March 19

Remember the Ritz in Roseville?

Yeah, I’m dating myself a bit with that reference, and it is a safe bet most of you don’t. After all, it closed 20 years ago. But when I step into Diesel Concert Lounge in New Baltimore — a venue tucked into a bowling alley, accessible through a door I never noticed before— it's the first thought to go through my mind.

The space feels like the quintessential Detroit-proud bar-slash-concert-venue, with the obligatory nod to Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker, whose handprints are immortalized in concrete, walk-of-fame style, next to those of Megadeth. There’s even a cigarette vending machine in one corner, opposite the stage. But this is only the lobby. A second door leads back to the main stage, housed in a former movie theater that still retains all of its silver screen style but none of its seats.

The whole evening takes me back to the days of scouring the ads in the Metro Times, looking for a cheap place to catch some local tunes on a Saturday night. Tickets were only $10 and beers $3, with not a craft brew to be had.

Diesel played host to a showcase of five local bands on Saturday night in an event headlined by Rival City Heights and Critical Bill. The lineup was an interesting mashup of styles split between the smaller bar stage and the main theater stage. Each act had the stage for only 30 minutes, just enough time to give fans a taste of their style and substance before yielding the floor.

First up: Bloodline Riot. Best known for their 2011 single, “Burn," which earned them a 2012 Detroit Music Awards nomination and a slew of local attention, they bring to the stage high energy hard rock that has a way of sounding pleasantly familiar even if you’ve never heard the track before.

Next was a total change of pace, as rapper Volcano and The New Radio Standard brought their fusion of hip-hop and rock to the stage for a high energy show with real flare. The ensemble takes the stage in suits and ties, only to shed layers as the temperature rose and the sweat flowed. Even the rockers in the crowd were on their feet once Volcano and his crew got going, blending guitar grooves with rap lyrics and an infectious beat.

Finally the action shifts to the main stage, where Detroit-based ensemble Cadre took the stage even before Volcano wrapped up his set. Regulars at Diesel, Cadre has built a devoted group of followers that crowd around the stage in anticipation of their distortion-heavy brand of hard rock.

Rival City Heights, fronted by X-Factor runner up Jeff Gutt, takes the main stage next. In previous hometown shows, the band incorporated highlights from Gutt’s X-Factor appearance, but with the short set, this performance is all about original tunes off their upcoming debut album. The new material, including the recently released single “Take it Back”, channel the spirit of 90s grunge into radio-friendly, lyrics-driven rock, showcasing Gutt’s vocals and the talented group of musicians he’s assembled since his reality television days.

Taking the stage last, headliners Critical Bill bring another rap-rock fusion to the stage with a style all their own. The energy in the room goes through the roof as they launch into their set with hard rock rhythms accompanying rap vocals in a forceful style that echoes one of the band’s acknowledged favorites, Rage Against the Machine. Far from a clone, however, Critical Bill brings a genuine urbanism and unity to a genre that can sometimes feel contrived or thrown together.

The short set format of the show made for a perfect sampling of music from a talented collection of local acts, forcing them to focus on original material without filling out a longer set with covers or spending precious time talking up the audience. And despite a few technical glitches, the intimate setting and old-school vibe make Diesel a great place to discover overlooked bands making music around Detroit.

All in all, it was $10 well spent. 

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