Slaughter and the Dogs’ hooligan-chant-and-power-chord mantra is going strong, as raucous as any racket made by punks since the summer of hate. Yet the band’s din does little to alter the mood inside the Shelter. Glum-faced teens and aging punks stand and stare at the band with all the exuberance of South London hipsters on Halcion. If not for Tim Vulgar, the Clone Defects’ 25-year-old front man, nothing would be happening at all. Vulgar, known widely for his spastic soft-shoe on punk dance floors, takes it upon himself to kick the action up a notch.
Suddenly there’s a rush of clamor and shouts on the dance floor; beer spills and bottles break. Nearly a dozen black-shirted security goons descend upon Vulgar.
The goon squad maneuvers Vulgar through the crowd toward the club’s front entrance. Thick arms hook each of Vulgar’s limbs, his neck caught in a chokehold, and broad fingers pull his flyaway blond locks hard enough that his head appears painfully misaligned with his torso. The singer’s beery eyes reveal a look of total resignation. Not long before, he’d been onstage with his band, opening for Slaughter and the Dogs. Now, he’s tossed out the Shelter’s door.
Vulgar leans against the outside wall of the club. He has retained his dignity startlingly well for a guy who just received the old heave-ho. He is composed, almost languid.
“Man, they tore my jacket,” he says, in a kind of stoner-ese. He looks at his girlfriend and shakes his head. “Shhhhit. I’m always gettin’ thrown out of shows.”
Vulgar claims the goons started it, that one of the goons didn’t appreciate his dance floor anarchy and pushed him. Goons say Vulgar got one of them by the throat, a claim confirmed by witnesses.
“Yeah, I grabbed his throat, I guess. Oh, well.”
Tours of the West Coast and the Northeast have earned the Clone Defects killer word of mouth as a live band to be reckoned with, and the band’s 2001 debut 12-inch, Blood on Jupiter, has garnered respectable reviews in national underground zines. The record is rife with tri-chord snarl-ups and pop-riddled shout-outs, ideal dirges for both the old punks and the underage drinkers.
Live, the Defects are all youthful bash and clamor. But it ain’t the estrogen-deficient meltdown you’d expect at a punk show. Vulgar exudes a kind of guttural sexuality; the same sort of kinetic tension James Chance or Richard Hell displayed back in the day. The sound is all-American punk straight outta the 1970s. It recalls LA band the Weirdos and Richard Hell-era Heartbreakers (a band together the year of Vulgar’s birth).
“Uh … sweet. Thanks a lot,” says Vulgar of the Hell comparison. “I dig Richard Hell. I saw him live maybe once on a video.”
“I like the old punk,” continues the part-time pizza-delivery man. “My brother Paul got me into punk when I was in third grade. JFA and shit like that. I just grew up on it. He’s the one that gave me the name Vulgar.”
Guitarist Wild Mid Wes looks like a beer-addled Nick Gilder, suitably bored in the guise of a gentleman. Heavy downstrokes belie a reserved presence. Drummer Fast Freddie makes up for whatever lack of skill with an overabundance of spirit and heart. Same for bassist Chuck Fogg, who happens to play live through what would appear to be the world’s smallest bass amp.
The Clone Defects’ redeeming feature — the one thing that separates them from truckloads of other backward-gazing riff ’n’ coif merchants — is Vulgar’s charisma and the group’s stubborn reluctance to be something other than what it is. What’s more, the band members all lack the ladder-climbing go-getter helix that rages in today’s pop’s gene pool. Phone calls go unreturned. Hands go unshaken. Fliers go unmade. Vulgar, in fact, had to be talked into doing the shot for the cover of Metro Times. He just didn’t want to do it, would’ve been too much trouble.
“I dunno,” he explains. “It just seems kinda stupid or something. Plus it’s just me and not the whole band.”
The Defects are not purposely obscurantist and contrived in some linear punk-rock way (despite their individual marquee-ready monikers); rather, they loathe the self-promoter types, those who froth at the mouth about their bands. This city is loaded with ’em.
“Yeah, we hate those kinds of bands,” Vulgar says. “We’re not into that shit at all.”
Vulgar’s second-floor flat in Hamtramck is rife with ghastly odors that match the band’s self-abasement racket. Spillover trash bags and heaps of dirty clothes give the place a peculiar mammalian odor, like soured milk in a mens locker room. Faux paneled walls are littered with vintage punk posters; tattered gig fliers match a battered but brilliant album collection, which doubles as fodder for Vulgar and drummer/housemate Fast Freddie’s punk DJ night at the Magic Stick.
His record collection, which goes from Dylan and the Coop to DMZ and Teengenerate — plus the band’s snarl-up of the ultra-rare Berlin Brats’ tune “Tropically Hot” (heard in Cheech and Chongs’ Up in Smoke), illustrates the depth of the band’s musical knowledge.
“I dunno,” he says flatly. “You gottta love what you do. There’s lots of other great bands in Detroit that know their shit. The Piranhas, the Metros, the Trash Brats … Easy Action is sweet. There’s tons. We just do what we do.”
Check out the rest of our features on this year's talented Blowout artists:
• Go back to the future with The Bloody Holly’s
• The eclectic Brothers Groove are driven by white-hot funk
• esQuire’s frenetic but fabulous rise to fame
• Robert Jones is Detroit's quintessential bluesman
• The Kielbasa Kings' tale of accordions, beer and never-fail pickup lines
• Inside King Gordy's heart of darkness
• Miz Korona shines through the hype and distractions
• Stowing away on Sista Otis' path to enlightenment
• The Von Bondies are on the edge … but of what?