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American imports: profit and loss

Von Bondies, Nov. 4

I love the 100 Club. It’s been a sweaty underground fleapit since 1928. It saw the cappuccinos and jazz, skiffle and punk. It could easily be turned into a Cavern Club-like museum of kitsch, but it’s still a sweatbox where your feet stick to the floor. Tonight, the 100 Club is rammed with the London rockeratti, spilling beer, slapping backs and kissing ass. I think I see someone from the Kings of Leon, but then realize that half the audience looks like members of the Marshall Tucker Band, so who can tell?

The glad-handing juggernaut is silenced by Marcie Bolen’s apocalyptic blues guitar din, with Jason Stollsteimer yelping like a drowning man receiving his sonic revelation. For a band that Jack White said has lost its mind, the Von Bondies have lost none of their “Can I get a witness?” evangelical rock ’n’ roll fervor; they’re a much tighter, more sophisticated machine. The original VB recipe hasn’t changed much, but the ingredients have been refined more toward enthusiasm and ability in equal doses.

Part pop-star strut, but still part kids-in-the-garage, Stollsteimer looks mildly startled at all the fuss, but he’s warming to it. One more song about a hardheaded woman, and their passports are going to be backdated. “Do you like the way I talk? Do you like me at all?” has the audience singing along. Yes, indeed, Jason, they do. They really do.

The audience won’t let them go, so they come back with a storming version of “Lack of Communication,” and the speaking-in-tongues riff-ology of the new single “C’mon C’mon,” a hit if I’ve ever heard one. They close with the fine “It Came From Japan,” Bolen with her fist in the air, a conquering heroine who knows when she’s won.

Broadzilla, Nov. 12

It’s curious that the NME and its friends go into a masturbatory frenzy at the words “garage” and “Detroit” when used in the same sentence, and yet have somehow overlooked Broadzilla. What’s in a name? Is rock ’n’ roll, turned up two more notches on the Big Muff and played about 10 beats-per-minute faster still not as sweet? Or is it deemed insufficiently ironic, lacking in postmodern hipster detachment, and therefore uncomfortably close to — say it with shame — metal.

Whatever. Broadzilla should be playing to more people, because they serve up swaggering punk-metal with angry cartoon camp, like grubby trailer-park strippers writing their own sound track for an Abel Ferrara-style revenge film. It’s Bettie Page and her Pussycats on malt likker and amphetamines, with a snarling fuzz-wah guitar fronting an enraged cement mixer — and that’s meant in the nicest way. I’ll bet the band is sick of hearing Muffs/Runaways comparisons, since it’s really Steppenwolf-meets-Motörhead under black lights and bong smoke.

Broadzilla head Rachel May howls her way through every man’s heart, and the girls’ eyes shine with 24-karat hero worship. Each song unfurls with furious power, nearly every one a speeding-down-the-interstate, vintage Mopar gem. They should be on tour with Queens of the Stone Age, the Wildhearts, or Nebula, not playing to a half-empty venue in Camden. Why they aren’t huge with the flaming gongs ’n’ bongs crowd is a mystery — when they tear into “Love Child” for an encore, it rocks the Camden Underworld club like the angry bastard daughter of Detroit rock ’n’ roll.

Blanche, Nov. 14

With the ornate Victorian wedding cake of the Shepherds Bush Empire as backdrop, a band is setting up for their set, supporting the Handsome Family. A wispy redhead appears straight outta the Grand Ole Opry, in a full-length gown with high heels and higher hair. She drifts onto the stage like the forgotten ghost of country music, plugging in stage pedals and tuning her bass with a cigarette stained blood-red clamped firmly between her teeth.

Welcome to Blanche. Welcome to the innocence that country lost, welcome to the bitterness. Welcome to Dan Miller, who comes off as an angry Lyle Lovett, a Chaplinesque priest, a man who hears voices, and a possible nutcase, and his wife, Tracee Mae Miller, a breathless, narcotized Appalachian sweetheart, the teetering tower of hairspray and heels. Welcome to the Old-Tyme Avengers. The guitar-bass-drums-banjo-autoharp-melodica-pedal steel-kitchen sink dynamic produces a mournful dustbowl edginess, a surf ’n’ twang noir. It’s a haunting backdrop to lyrics so black that they risk becoming comical, but remain burnt all the same.

The mid-November show had a very good turnout, and Blanche went down extremely well. Some say they blew the Handsome Family away, and I don’t think they are half wrong.

Between songs, there are bitter rants against hope. “That kid there,” Miller points to a teenager in the audience, “You’ve got about three nice summers left, and then it’s all downhill, it’s over.” Another song is for the “dead things I’ve thrown away.” No one’s laughing, especially not the Handsome Family, who know this will be an impossible act to follow. Welcome to the New American Gothic. You’ve made your bed. Now lie in it, goddamn it.

Which must be exactly what Tony Blair is thinking. Funny how the prime minister’s office insists that the foreign office invited U.S. President George Bush, while the foreign office insists it was Buckingham Palace. The queen’s office immediately denied extending the invitation, implying that the visit was presented to them “under authority” which they could not refuse.

Dubya, uninvited

What the hell, eh? It’s Christmas. We’ll all have some unwanted guests inviting theirselves into our living rooms, eating the last piece of pie and outstaying their welcome in the next few weeks. But few do so at an expense of millions of pounds to taxpayers who desperately do not want them there. Few sacrifice their city — locked out of their own lives in a security clampdown the likes of which London has never seen. Few unwelcome guests bring their own armed goon squad. Enter President Bush.

After decades at the hands of the IRA, Bader-Meinhof, the Red Brigade and other radical bomb-planting nut-jobs, the gall of Bush lecturing Europe about terror (or “turrr” in the Bush lexicon) is jaw-droppingly arrogant and willfully naive. But those are just the qualities that Britain and the rest of Europe have come to expect from Mr. Bush, an astonishingly simplistic worldview from a millionaire who seldom traveled abroad before he was “elected” leader of the “free world.” The good news is that there is a general awareness that Bush and his administration are not to be confused with Americans as a whole. Yesterday’s demonstration was led by Ron Kovic, ’Nam vet of Born on the Fourth of July fame, carrying a banner that read “Proud of My Country, Ashamed of My President,” and he led the countdown that toppled the statue of Bush in Trafalgar Square.

At least the American anti-war movement has a clear target.

The British protesters recognize Bush as Mr. First Strike, but have to admit that a Labor prime minister — against the wishes of Parliament — dragged them into this mess.

Which leaves the famous “special relationship” a bit confused. Like most family gatherings, there are things about distant relatives that we love. London loves American music, and rolls out the red carpet with repeated generosity. You guys like Hugh Grant — go figure. But keep an eye on your guest’s motives. This notion that “Britain is our only ally” needs further examination. One important man in this administration is your ally in this particular war, and he is meeting serious resistance from the majority of his own party and the British people because of it. His motives have a hell of a lot more to do with his fears about being a small, late-joining and resented fish in a big united Europe than most Americans really understand. The UK had a political/economic hissy fit (see: Thatcherism), and have stood outside of the European Union and sulked for so long that it can hardly come in and claim the last dance. In that sense, America is Britain’s only ally. Know your enemy, by all means, but look even more closely at your friends.

The overall consensus is that Mr. Bush is using this visit as a swanky photo opportunity for his re-election campaign. See some neat old buildings and get your picture taken with the Queen, a real-live recognizable monarch, and dispel those ugly rumors of international isolation. For Georgie’s first day, he was whisked around an eerily empty London in his own fragrant ecosystem, whilst guards in full tourist drag marched by in disciplined rows. That ratcheting sound you hear in Westminster Abbey is the Unknown Warrior spinning in his tomb.

After yesterday’s twin suicide bombs tore up British targets in Turkey as a direct al Qaeda riposte to Bush’s UK visit, everyone is numb and scrambling for the political high ground. Tony Blair says, “What this latest terrorist outrage shows us is that this is a war — its main battleground is Iraq.” To which the rest of the world says “Huh?” as the rhetoricians once again confuse a largely Saudi terrorist organization and an oil-rich-but-cash-poor country with an ugly ex-dictator and a Halliburton contract.

Meanwhile, the Turks are wondering why they’ve allowed themselves to be dragged into this nightmare, their holy Ramadan shattered, their peaceful co-existence of Christianity and Islam blown up by their allegiance to the Anglo-American doctrine. But the war’s primary justification, that it’s making the world a safer place (for Westerners, let’s be realistic — it’s certainly no safer for Iraqis or Afghans) is looking unsustainable. The world just gets more dangerous for everybody by the minute.

Shireen Liane is a UK correspondent for Metro Times. E-mail

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