The Electric 6
The Barfly at the Monarch, Camden
OK, the Barfly is a room above a pub in Camden. Realistic capacity about 140, 160 max.
Brendan Benson blasts the house system while Electric 6 is being line-checked. The schwa-schwa air-kissing rockeratti scum are out in their Armani-record bag-and-cocaine-yapping droves, and I have to admit to feeling slightly ill. Detroit, or the myth of Detroit, is bleeding an industrial-strength cancer into what I still want to think of as my rock ’n’ roll. Nobody paid to get into this show. Everybody looks over your shoulder when they say “hi,” lest someone more important hove into view. Timothy, my intrepid snapper/harmonium player, and I retreat downstairs for a beer.
We return upstairs, and it’s even worse. I know what a sold-out show is, I’m willing to be crammed in with excitable strangers for my dB epiphany, but this is fucking ridiculous. My ass is being shamelessly groped by an alcoholic Glaswegian publisher who has just spilled a Jack and Coke down my back. Then she gives Tim a squeeze, just so he doesn’t feel left out, and it’s too packed to actually turn around and slap. It’s when I’m leaning at a 20 degree angle and my feet leave the ground for nearly a minute that I decide to get the fuck out. Everyone’s talking publishing-licensing-percentage-PR, no one here gives a shit about seeing no fucking rock and roll band.
If Timothy’s camera didn’t have a digital viewfinder, I would not have been able to tell you how many people were on stage. I see a flash of some bloke who looks like a greasy Neil Young-meets-Will Sergeant, and one dodgy Cure haircut. I spy a Jan-Michael Vincent lookalike in a powder-blue suit. I hear the Stooges hijack Kraftwerk. But I can’t breathe and feel positively hateful.
A mate of mine works downstairs, and after jokes about who blew the fire marshal, she says she’d put money on 450-plus being up there. I’d be willing to wager that fewer than 100 were paying punters. Is this the price of the easy London ride?
The 3 of Clubs, Los Angeles
The 3 of Clubs is your teak-paneled Dean Martin wet dream of a venue, even if the dinky PA leaves the Hives-alike opening band sounding like your dad singing through a sock. Putting on live bands in a place this un-rock is exactly what promoters need to do more often. If you want perfect sound, go listen to headphones in your bedroom.
The Sights don’t come on stage so much as slowly migrate away from the bar toward the pile of instruments. The half-arsed, “Oh, I guess we might as well” is admirably slack — and then they launch into 45 minutes of booze, sweat and rave-up that leaves the insufferably über-hipster LA audience stunned and smiling in that dazed, post-coital way. The Sights came, saw and conquered. Or maybe it was the other way around.
Eddie Baranek’s awkward charm is sometimes at odds with his muscular physical attacks on his guitar, and Nate Cavalieri (yes, him again) grooves his Wurlitzer/Hammond combo like someone so happy to be an ex-journo, it just isn’t true, and my friend’s wife falls in love with the bass player.
The Dublin Castle, Camden, London
The Dublin Castle is teeny-tiny, but not so prone to industry fuckfest behavior as the Barfly, so we take our chances on this first night and it really pays off. There are enough people here for it to feel like a proper gig, but most of them teenagers with scratchy 7-inch vinyl hearts, which is exactly how it should be.
The Go kick into a shambolic “Little Girl,” and make every teabag’s Dee-troyt dream come true. Hell, I’m impressed by any band that takes a full HiWatt stack out to tour the toilet venues of Great Britain, but that’s just the kind of gal I am. Slutty, sleazy, greasy and gritty, the racket speaks of years out in Dad’s garage listening to Live at Leeds at top volume until it’s permanently embedded under your fingernails, burned onto your DNA. The Stones, the Who and the Faces, those British bands, so obsessed with American blues and R&B that they became more “American” than we could ever be — exported again by the careless power of a bunch of guys from some Detroit suburb.
But seriously. They’ve nothing incredibly crafty or inventive, but these are the songs that we sing to ourselves, driving alone toward that first drink, first date, first whatever. Even though we’ve never heard them before.
The kids who’ve bought Capricorn on import sing along like it’s their personal anthem. Just try, for a minute, to remember how foreign — and how amazingly special — something you had to mail order used to be. I want music to always make me feel this reckless and strong.
The Soledad Brothers
The Boston Arms
What an abundance of riches — Detroit-On-Thames. After a pretty disappointing turnout for Outrageous Cherry, I was beginning to wonder if the Detroit magic was wearing thin, but the Soledad Brothers are sold out and the Paybacks/Hentchmen come in a close second as ticket du jour.
The Soledad Brothers were great. Excellent. Superb, etc. Yardbirdsy skronk and Dee-troyt jive all the way. But to be honest, that “Train-Kept-A-Rollin’” guitar style just isn’t quite my thing. I can dig it, I appreciate it, and I can even stand in a sold-out venue through an hour of it and come away happy, except …
I have a trashy rock ’n’ roll heart, a power-pop past, and the Paybacks are scheduled to be onstage in 10 minutes. Gun the Vitesse, burn down the Holloway Road (where the High Fidelity record-geek heaven was written, before it was Americanized), tear up Tufnell Park (yes, it does go one louder, ask my neighbors) and catch Wendy Case on a mission to keep the bar from collapsing whilst she drinks away her gravelly throat, recently resurfaced by a week-plus of gigs with no hotels, no beds, no sleep.
You meet Wendy Case, and it’s like you’ve known her for years. The woman is so present, there is no guard, no internal editor, just this great warmth and an Amazonian confidence. Everything you want in an underground hero, but without the drama, without the bullshit. Christ, I wish she lived next door.
And the Paybacks live up to their promise, and blast their brand of Cheap Trick plus AC/DC plus Pretenders to the back of the room. There are kids here who have seen them every night this week, singing along. The boys want to be with her, the girls just want to be her. And as it bloody well should be — I want to see Wendy Case promoted from underground heroine to Minister of Smart-Anthemic-Sing-Along-Rock now.
So I’m skyvving off at work, and crack open an NME to: “Girls Aloud remain at the top of the UK charts this week (Jan 12) with Sound Of The Underground (which is a shiny piece of diabolica corporatel poo if ever I’ve heard one), but were run close this week by Electric Six, the Detroit veterans and friends of Jack White, who crash in at Two …” whereupon I fall off my chair. The Detroit LoveFest and Friends of Jack White Chart Association continues unabated, with its secret Motown handshake and demonic allegiance to the groove.
I really don’t quite know what to say. The upper reaches of the UK charts are rarely troubled by anything other than manufactured pop aimed at teenage girls and gay men or R&B (the British version of which is an acquired taste, though I still think it’s so bland that it has no taste). It’s a singles chart, built on singles sales alone, unlike the U.S. version, which is an amalgamation of singles sales and radio play. And still, the swanky polyestah disco parodists materialized on “Top of the Pops,” sandwiched between Girls Aloud, who look like a gaggle of check-out chicks from Safeway forced to do aerobics at gunpoint after a cheap makeover and their first line of cocaine, and “The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum).” No, I did not fucking make that up! How I wish to sweet Christ I had.
The answer to this week’s Credible Chart Mystery is Miss Zoë Ball. Ms Ball has been banging on about Danger High Voltage! every morning on her BBC Radio 1 morning show and playing it several times during drive time. Every day. That’s national radio, kids. It is not physically possible to have more listeners in this country, and Ms. Ball, though now presenting the blandest in mainstream bland, has been the nation’s little indie sweetheart for years now, dating various noisy guitar boys before becoming Mrs. Fatboy Slim and a mom, whilst still maintaining a reputation as a gal who knows how to enjoy herself with a little better living through chemistry before she staggers in to her early morning radio slot, bless her cotton socks.
So practice your secret handshake, kids, and you, too, could have a chart hit. Just don’t lose your Travelcard.Shireen Liane is the UK correspondent for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org