Monday, April 29, noon: The tickets and photo passes that were promised a month ago by Q magazine for their Detroitus Night with the White Stripes, Dirtbombs and the Von Bondies have failed to arrive. This show has been sold out for more than a month. I am beginning to worry.
Monday, April 29, 9 p.m.: Call from the notorious haiku diarist/journo/Come On ivory-basher/all-around Detroit Guy, young Nathaniel Cavalieri — who is in Belgium. All the jokes about “as exciting as Belgium on a Monday night” are proving true. The Come Ons play the Garage in London tomorrow. He says he’ll call after sound check and we plan to meet before the gig.
Tuesday, April 30, 4 p.m.: Call Q Magazine. They transfer me to an endless string of posh young production assistants who say that 1) it’s been mailed out, then 2) no it hasn’t, and sorry, there are no tickets available for Metro Times, there’s nothing we can do. Liars. So the next time you see a Q magazine in your local record shop and think about buying it, scan it in the aisle instead.
Cavalieri calls. They are still in Dover, detained on the ferry. No bluebirds sighted. Dover is only about an hour and a half from London, but it’s rush hour in a city whose buildings are older than the United States. We agree to meet at the gig. I am joined by my partner in crime, photographer Tim, and Mick, a stoner lighting engineer character from Sarf Lahndan. Sweetest man alive, but no one can understand a word that he says.
Tuesday, April 30, 9:30 p.m.: Blag our way into the Garage and watch a set by new Food Records signing, the Candys. They’re a fine little garage combo, but their manager is being a total prick. Finally meet young Nate in person. He looks fraught and headachy, and invests in a pack of smokes and two pints before going on stage. Detroit logic rules.
Tuesday, April 30, 10 p.m.: The Come Ons play a blinder of a set. It’s not packed, but considering that it wasn’t listed anywhere due to massive incompetence on the part of the promoter, it was OK. The crowd that’s here is very appreciative. Tim gets some great pictures with my new camera.
Someone from the Come Ons said “we’re not a rock band, we’re a soul band.” Well, honey, when I hear soul music, half of me wants to make lurve with lots of eye contact and half of me wants to go to church. When I watched the Come Ons, I wanted to do neither. Instead, I felt compelled to drink copious amounts of alcohol and take chemicals. In my book, that makes the Come Ons a rock and roll band. And a super-fine rock and roll band at that, with more ass (as in makes-it-swing) than soul. Stop your sniveling, people. You won.
Nate starts to look pained by the encore, and I hand him some aspirin. We get funny looks. Tough shit. Buy your own drugs.
Offstage, Nate is willingly kidnapped. Doesn’t even stick around to get his suitcase. I talk to Jean-Luc, the Come Ons babysitter, and arrange to deliver young Nathaniel to the BBC Radio 1 Studios by 3 p.m. tomorrow for a recording session with John Peel.
We return to glamorous Tufnell Park, where we proceed to sit around and sing songs and tell stories and play with guitars and harmoniums and cats until about 5 a.m.
Wednesday, May 1, noon: Bleary, fuzzy, but content. Nate treats us to a yummy breakfast in Stoke Newington, we convey him to the leafy enclave of Maida Vale and Aunty Beeb. Fellow Come Ons look relieved to see him, though distressed by his disheveled appearance. Don’t worry, John Peel isn’t actually royalty. Live with it.
Nate says he will call re: guest list places to the Q Detroitus night at the Shepherds Bush Empire on Thursday.
Wednesday, May 1, 4 p.m.: It’s May Day, which is a pretty big deal in Europe. Everybody’s marching to Mayfair and Trafalgar Square to protest against capitalism, etc. That is, everybody who doesn’t have squat. The folks that have squat + something are more likely to want to hang onto it, and less likely to want to share with the plebs. Such is life the world over.
In any case, I have an Irish anarchist friend who is actually on trial today — for making obscene gestures at a police van. OK, it started out as allegedly assaulting a police officer during another protest, but somehow it has come down to this. I love seeing my taxes put to such good use. I intend to make obscene gestures at every inanimate object I see, just to get my money’s worth.
The great thing about having paddy anarchist mates is that every protest must stop to reconvene at every pub they pass. Central London has a pub every 25 yards. We never make it to Trafalgar Square.
Thursday, May 2, 3 a.m.: Toxic. No call from Nate.
Thursday, May 2, noon: No call from Nate. Consider relying on prayer. Instead, find Jean-Luc’s mobile number (which is French, of course) and call, only to be confronted by some baffling French answering machine instructions. I took Spanish in high school. D’oh. Leave message.
Thursday, May 2, 1 p.m.: Call Jean-Luc. Leave message.
Thursday, May 2, 2 p.m.: Call Jean-Luc. Leave message.
Thursday, May 2, 3 p.m.: Call Jean-Luc. Speak to Patrick, from the Come Ons/ Dirtbombs, who says he will try to get me and photog Tim on the list. Bless his heart.
Get call from Deanna (Come Ons) who says that we are on.
Thursday, May 2, 7 p.m.: Shepherds Bush Empire. What a lovely venue — three tiered wedding-cake terraces & chandeliers. And it’s rammed. Scalpers outside are selling tickets for £50 ($75 U.S.) and more. Pints of Guinness in celebration.
Thursday, May 2, 7:45 p.m.: The Von Bondies come on like a Nuggets boxed set shot out of a cannon into the fashionably bored London dark. It sounds good in here. Marcie Von Bondie (bass player) looks like a white trash Marlene Deitrich, has the jail-bait gum-snap down, drums and guitars come on with a volley of rock and roll overdrive; Jason Von Bondie like he is trying to exorcise the ghosts of garage glory past while the band’s roar rattles his frame.
The kids in the crowd don’t know what hit them. Then they do, and are transported to shrieking gratitude. God, I love it when this happens.
Thursday, May 2, 8:45 p.m.: The Dirtbombs come onstage with Deanna Come Ons, and start up — at which point, we are rudely interrupted by security. Tim’s lack of a photo pass has come to the attention of the goon squad and he is being unceremoniously ejected from the building. Music may be nourishing for the soul, but Tim has my money, my travel card and my new camera.
This is one of the few times being American and female will come in handy. We promise not to take any more pictures.
Thursday, May 2, 10 p.m.: Back inside. Finally.
It appears that even the Teabag/Detroit lovefest was not immune to the dance floor-clearing properties of the Dirtbombs. I overheard the phrase “bad Northern soul bollocks” and “lumpen bullshit.” I saw a furious girl taking her Dirtbombs tank top back to the merchandise stall and demanding her £15 back. I overheard references to holiday resort all-soul revues. Perhaps the fresh air was our best option. Another Guinness is called for.
By the way, I lied. Of course we’re taking pictures.
The White Stripes come onstage — “We’re the White Stripes from Toledo, Ohio” — and unceremoniously rip into “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.” Fuck. They were great last summer, but this constant touring has made them even better. They are tighter, they are looser; they are more confident than ever. They have managed to achieve that loose-spined rock ’n’ roll arrogance that is the difference between good and great. The hype is justified — they own this town. Following a version of “I Smell A Rat” that’s sounds like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, they launch into their classic version of “Jolene” with so much anxiety and panic rising in Jack White’s falsetto that it’s contagious. “Hotel Yorba” has a 500-strong mosh pit pogoing with joy. The gutter filth of “Detroit women won’t let Mr. Jack White rest” makes me think “surely he means London?” At one point, he actually hits the deck and screams down the guitar pickup to demonically good effect.
At which point it all goes black and I can’t breathe. Panic. Kick. Scream. Bundled off like a 3-year-old. Goon squad, round two. Threw a jacket over my head, dragged photog Tim, arm twisted behind back. Dropped bag during surprise assault. Wallet, passport, camera, everything. Gone.
Tim still has travel cards in his coat pocket. It’s a quiet tube ride home.Metro Times correspondent Shireen Liane periodically pens "Letter from London." E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org