The first annual Motor City Music Conference (MC2) in Detroit this week (Wednesday through Sunday) is a head-fuck to be sure. Dig it: more than 450 bands and artists splayed at 50 venues and nonvenues across Detroit and Hamtramck, all running the blues, rap, rock, R&B, electronic, world and folk genres. Headliners include the Black Keys, Snoop Dogg, The Game, D12’s Proof, Paul Westerberg, Detroit Cobras, the Dirtbombs, the Paybacks, Blanche and Paradime, among some others.
At the Cobo Expo Center there’ll be three days of daytime music industry panels — from Detroit musical historians and major label careerists to rock critics and publicists yakking the game — and a trade show filled with booths trumpeting technology, lifestyle marketing, music products, fashion and so on. This all begins Thursday at 11 a.m. with a conference keynote address given by Grammy-glomming producer Don Was.
The Detroit Music Awards jumpstarts the fest with live performances from the Cyril Lords, Dirty Americans, Eastern Michigan Gospel Choir, David McMurray (with guest Don Was), Miz Korona and more. There will also be a well-deserved all-star tribute to recently deceased Don Rader, arguably Detroit’s first rock ’n’ roll star. The live nod will include Jimmy Bones, Scott Campbell and drummer Johnny Bee. Byrd man Roger McGuinn will be seen via a prerecorded DVD delivering a Rader eulogy. The Awards show begins at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 20, at the State Theatre.
Hence, the MC2 is grand in scope, ambition and corporate insignia sure, but one question remains: Will there be an audience to support it?
MC2 passes are $15, $40, $60 and $100, available at ticketmaster.com (248-645-6666). Also to help minimize parking and inherent driving problems between venues, special buses will be running, the hub being Grand Circus Park. For complete festival info go to Motorcitymusic.com.
Of the myriad performances this week around our well-oiled burg, we’ve singled out a handful of off-the-beaten-path shows worthy of attention.
Lovely guitar-plucking singer convinces on tearjerkers about cheatin’ and drinkin’
It was a blustery night last March when Loretta Lucas made Baker’s Streetcar Bar her own. Performing her own songs and unhurried covers, Lucas made the Hamtramck bar’s unassuming common room glow with a phantom firelight. As part of the Blowout, the show was no secret. But it still felt undiscovered and pure, like a still in a holler or quiet singing in the dark. The songs on Lucas’ self-titled EP definitely appreciate glass-plate-negative, murder-ballad America. A child learns quickly about death in Lucas’ “June’s Sixth,” and the song’s electrified echo mixes foreboding with a seesaw vocal lilt. There’s country here too — leading ladies like Tammy and Dolly — and in her evocative lyrics and tensile electric guitar is the modern songwriting curl of PJ Harvey or Martha Wainwright. “Twenty-Five Years” is all gas pedal anticipation, still charming but begging for drums and a fuzz pedal. It just might get one.
“My band is called the Larkspurs,” Lucas says. “They like to rock.” But Lucas is also clear about motive. “We like old country — old melodies and harmonies,” she says. “We like to sing songs about love and cheatin’, drinkin’ and beatin’, cryin’ and dyin’.” But she’ll also segue effortlessly into “Brand New Key,” nailing the Melanie classic in both vocal and mildly salacious tone. With a full choir backup she could really tear into “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).” But Lucas is happy with her Larkspurs: bassist and twin sister Julie, guitarist Alia Allen, and drummer Arun Bali. —Johnny Loftus
Coke Dick Motorcycle Awesome
A “rocked nuts” six-piece with, get this, three, and sometimes, four guitars
With such an exclamatory, stupendously percussive band name, you might expect a performance by Coke Dick Motorcycle Awesome to feature bass-playing grizzly bears, death-defying rocketbike feats and 16-ton anvils dropping randomly from the sky. Yes, “There are some expectations you have to live up to,” Coke Dick principal Ben Igrisan says. His solution for the Ypsilanti group’s upcoming MC2 show? “You haven’t seen this many guitar cabinets in a restaurant before. We usually have a minimum of three guitar players, sometimes four.”
CDMA’s songs are a tension headache of metal, hardcore and every loud subgenre listed in between, with crushing death metal breaks regularly meeting double-time boot-stamp drums or even buoyant, nearly punk-pop melodies. The handclaps and crazed energy of “Cause I Can” suggest Seattle’s Blood Brothers, while “Ypsilanti Jaxxy,” besides its great title, is a heady blast of classicist hardcore. Frequent twists of lowbrow humor hold together CDMA’s frenetic sonic mix (“Jaxxy” begins with a classic quote from Dark Helmet). But the greatest thing about Coke Dick Motorcycle Awesome is the constant sense that they’re barely in control. One too many chord changes and that rocketbike will careen into the parking lot. And that’s the way Igrisan and his (currently) six bandmates like it. “We’ve all been in really serious, stressful groups,” he says. “So we try to keep things fun by being really loud and working up a sweat.” Their burgeoning MySpace friends list seems to like it. “Coke Dick Motorcycle Awesome rocked nuts!” chirped one excited commenter, and that seems like the perfect compliment. —Johnny Loftus
Friday at Harry’s Detroit with the Hotness, Hey Sailor, The Stalkers and Terrible Twos.
There’s more than just garage fumes in the burbs, Jack
You could read lots into the CD cover and title of Javelins recently released record No Plants. Just Animals. Hell, the booklet’s illustration depicts two zoo animals jabbed with a knife and fork. But according to this trio, the No Plants. Just Animals metaphor references deep-sea exploration, not dead animal consumption. So it’s no surprise that the Javelins are both head-fuck progressive and booty-floor ready. Counting indie-wrecked groups like Q and Not U and Blonde Redhead as tip-off points, the Javelins (including singer-drummer Matt Rickle, bassist Julian Wettlin) bang it all home with fuzzed-in electronics and uncooked guitar. Much like Livonia town-mates Thunderbirds are Now!, Javelins would sound more at home in, say, Brooklyn’s hipster art-rock scene than a staid Detroit burb. But it’s the detached suburban stubbornness of Livonia and its record label Suburban Sprawl Music that puts the spunk in the Javelins’ inspired brand of pop ’n’ clang. Livonia, a happening town; who would have thought?
“We actually hope to bring some attention here,” says Javelins guitarist, Matt Howard. “We believe that every band involved in the label is uniquely talented and will let people know that there is great music coming out of Michigan that isn’t garage rock.” —Shannon McCarthy
Arbiters of uncool expound the finer points of geek rock
Toto hitting the harmonies of “Hold the Line”; It’s Hard-era Roger Daltrey jogging in place; the pulsing buildup of Steve Perry’s 1984 smash “Oh Sherrie” — as Johnny Headband, Chad Thompson and his brother Keith find the spirit of mawkish AOR inside hyper bass lines, keyboard squiggles, and fashions straight out of a Miami Vice-themed singles bar. “Synergistic movement combined with sound,” Chad says. “It defines [Johnny Headband’s] existence and changes the way rock is consumed. We were born to run.”
They’ve made an impression since their August 2004 inception, sharing bills with EsQuire, A Thousand Times Yes, and the Beggars (Keith’s other band) and generally reminding everyone how much fun acting like a dork really is. Chad offers another good-natured Headband summation: “We want you to forget boundaries. Forget you don’t know how to dance. To not care whether you’re funny, or cool, or good-looking, or wearing the right sweater-vest.” Now he’s on a roll. “We’re trying to bring together different kinds of people with one common goal: to be yourself and have fun. I guess that’s two common goals.” Johnny Headband is obviously passionate about the power of their geek-powered whiz-core. But who died and made the Thompson brothers the arbiters of uncool? What kind of experience can they bring to the job? At this they get genetic. “Twenty-five years ago the concept was born,” Chad says. “Keith received a brother. Many years were spent playing air-guitar, when finally one day, training was over.” It’s time for you to see what they’ve learned. —Johnny Loftus
Witty indie poppers twist the traditional
“We killed Robocop!” boasts Slats guitarist-vocalist Jon Hansen with an e-mailed swagger. As introductory statements go, it’s a bold one. But their Motor City Music Conference gig is the Iowa-Minnesota trio’s latest in Detroit, and the Slats are coming in gunning like a deranged Kurtwood Smith. On 2004’s Pick it Up (Latest Flame), Hansen, Brian Cox and Mark Tietjen rock a skewed pop sense divined from somewhere among the Cars, the Gossip, and Guided By Voices. Two guitars (one with four strings), two singers, and controlled bursts of drumming make things tense, nervous and shaky; cynical word-jumble lyrics nod to a decade of indie rock slyness. A squelchy tone bleats at the heart of “Automobile,” like an insistent horn while you’re trying to sleep, and Cox is a howling maniac on “Mouth Like a Shotgun,” a song with more pent-up energy than a coiled spring. “Teena” is Pick It Up’s acknowledged jam. “Teena! Teena! Teena! I’ll be in New York if you make it out” — the chorus is hooky and hopeful. But what about that grinding guitar, and the verses Cox sings with a bottom lip jutted against the microphone? “Sugar cube and cyanide” goes his first line, and it’s clear that this is some kind of modern love song. The Slats were here last January for the Amino Acids’ CD release show. They also spent most of February on the road with those alien-surf crazies, so the trio’s MC2 set should be a jumble of psycho and sweet. You know, like Nancy Allen in Kevlar. —Johnny Loftus
BANG sugar BANG
Bulls beating pigs, and tossing beer bottles at Ted Nugent! Heck, yeah!
Why in the world would a Los Angeles-based band like BANG sugar BANG feel any sort of attachment to Detroit? According to bassist-singer Cooper, “Our drummer [Pawley Filth] entered a bull in the Michigan 4H Finals once, but the bull lost because it got beat up by a pig.” Guitarist Matt Southwell claims to hold the honor of the longest kegstand in Western Michigan University history. Hell, band folklore tells of Southwell and Filth getting tossed out of a Detroit club for allegedly flinging beer bottles at Ted Nugent; now that’s a bunch that truly appreciates the sprit of the Rock City.
This self-proclaimed beer-soaked trio specializes in uncluttered rock that melds The Pixies and old school ’70s punk with unexpected male/female vocal harmonies. On her own, Cooper wails like PJ Harvey channeling Exene Cervenka (managing to look mighty fine while doing it). The band shines brightest live, though, says Cooper, “Sometimes we invite Matt’s mom onstage to do an accordion solo while she grills hot dogs for the entire bar. We’ve been told that’s endearing.” While it’s not likely Mom will be in Detroit, BANG sugar BANG’s set oughtta be worthwhile regardless. One question begs: Why should Detroiters feel an attachment to this motley crew? Cooper jokes, “(Southwell) is a certified snowmobile mechanic. So, he can rock you at our show and then afterwards he can wrench a new carburetor into your Arctic Cat.” With the weather around these parts, if that’s not endearing, then what is? —Gary Blackwell
Howard Glazer and the El 34s
Thirty years in the hole
Howard Glazer’s simple explanation for the high number of musicians who jump the blues train after countless years squandered in the music business? “Blues is basically the roots of American music,” the Detroit guitarist says. “It’s the foundation of many styles and a lot of people just get drawn back to those roots.” Coming from a dude who played his first bar show at age 13 before snaking through various rock, jazz and punk combos, his words carry weight. The Rip Van Winkle-coiffed Glazer started seriously getting into blues in the late ‘80s, which led to a worldwide touring stint with Harmonica Shah. From there he began recording his own songs, hence his group the El 34s. Glazer’s guitar turns draw frequent comparisons to Buddy Guy and Johnny Winter, though he’s quick to point out, “I don’t think I really sound like [them], though they are definite influences.” The group actually kicks it along the power blues lines of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble; the rhythm section provides a surprisingly substantial backdrop for Glazer’s heady soloing, resulting in an accessible sound that’s all electric blues. It may have taken Glazer 30 years to find the blues, but he plays as if he was there since birth. —Gary Blackwell
They can spark ’em alright, but don’t call ’em “stoner”
When Dimitri Coats hears the words, “stoner rock,” he thinks of “Weed, guitar, volume, weed, ummmmm, horns, long hair, drugs, muscle cars, idiots, friends and weed.” As much as the guitarist and singer for Philadelphia-turned-L.A. spliff-riff tradesmen Burning Brides detests journo hacks who refer to his band’s ball-squishing din as “stoner,” you get the sense that, really, he doesn’t mind that much.
Last year, Burning Brides released their sophomore album Leave No Ashes on V2, and while their sound is closer to the Queens’ quasi-stoner metal rock, the Brides have sonically mirrored the Stooges, AC/DC and Nebula, without sounding bong-damaged or trend-adoring retro.
Joining Coats in the closely-knit, party-spinning combo are his longtime girlfriend and bassist Melanie Campbell and drummer Mike Ambs. Both Coats and Campbell dropped out of Juilliard to pursue music — and each other. If things turned out differently though, we might’ve seen Coats starring in the next run of Rent. Hell, we still could. “I wish I could say I was in a Starburst commercial or a weird porno or something,” Coats says of his Juilliard-acting days. “Hey, bring back Crazy Foam and I’d do that for free.” —Shannon McCarthy
Thursday at St. Andrew’s Hall with the Black Keys.
Some bubblegum snapping, some smarts, and plenty of guitars. Plus, Robin Zander’s kid
The Snaggs’ Web site notes proudly their singer’s family tree. “Fronted by Holland Zander,” it says, “daughter of Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander.” Now, everyone knows the Trick already put the rock in Rockford, Illinois. But Holland and her band of dudes aren’t some sort of shameless Heaven Tonight cover band. Instead they put guitar pop in line with Liz Phair and write sardonic songs about pals in heavy metal bands. They’re also sponsored by Jagermeister, with a tour rider that demands a venue stock the black licorice cannonball. In short, they want you to want them, not a classic rock fantasy. Veterans of Chicago’s long-running International Pop Overthrow festival (their MC2 gig is on the heels of two sets at this year’s IPO), the Snaggs are as comfortable with bubblegum pop as they are with wrangling guitars and pop culture references. And Zander has the kind of perfect, powerful singing voice you don’t hear in rock ‘n’ roll these days — easy money says a Snaggs cover of Pet Benatar’s “Shadows of the Night” would send St. Andrew’s Hall crashing onto Congress Street. —Johnny Loftus
Saturday at St. Andrew’s Hall with Floor Ritual, Lovehammers, the Gelheads and Ivory Wire.
Jizzy Canadian glam pups are the world’s best band. Just ask ’em
Robin Black, front man for the leather-trousered and cleverly titled Toronto group Robin Black, has no problem spitting out just how fab his glam quintet is. To wit: “It’s nearly impossible to put into words how good Robin Black the band is. It’s not just that we’re the best band — it’s that we’re so much fucking better than who’s ever number two.” Spoken like a true cock-in-hand, hip-swiveling snot-nose, and would be dismissed as such if the band didn’t propitiously summon the ghosts of Silverhead and classic Alice Cooper.
With the release of their latest album, the, uh, aptly titled Instant Classic, Black and his band of booze-addled train wrecks are amped to bring their strain of dyed-black din to Detroit Rock City. The record, produced by legendary studio tweaker Bob Ezrin (see Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, Hanoi Rocks), overflows with fat Kiss-y hooks and gooey glit sing-song. According to Black, Ezrin got the group sounding as good as they can be. Sound like an Army ad? Hardly. “We went from being one of the great rock bands to the great rock band today,” says the man who refers to himself as Robin “Fucking” Black with zero trace of irony. “I sound arrogant, but rock ’n’ roll is supposed to be arrogant. It’s supposed to have this big-dick swagger to it. It’s supposed to be cocky and confident and bare-chested. That’s what it’s always been and that’s what it’s supposed be.” After a pause, he adds, “We’re not crying wolf; we’re crying fox and it’s the real deal.” —Shannon McCarthy.
Saturday at the Lager House with Capitol Cities, the Witnesses and the Grande Nationals.
• Glenn Tilbrook, 1:30 p.m at Borders/Acoustic Café Stage.
• Maurice Malone’s Hip-Hop Shop, with Proof and DJ Houseshoes, plus a fashion show, at Envy.
• Big Now featuring Brownstudy with Formless Figures, Dai, Zoetic, John Stoll at Johanson Charles Gallery.
• Paul Westerberg at St. Andrew’s Hall.
• Tijuana Bullfight with My Favorite Plaid Straightjacket, My Friend Rudra, Last, Engine and Motown Rage at Paycheck’s Lounge.
• Snoop Dogg and the Game at Joe Louis Arena
• Mark Dignam with Sonia and Disappear Fear, Eliza, Kiersten Gray, and Dave Boutette, and Tom Freund at 1515 Broadway.firstname.lastname@example.org