Tag Archives: Jack White

From underground obscurity to international phenomenon: “It Came From Detroit”

2 Mar

It Came From DetroitThank goodness I moved to Detroit when I did. If I’d arrived in the 1990s, I probably wouldn’t have been able to hold down a steady job or get any sleep because I would have spent every spare dollar and minute in a scuzzy bar somewhere downtown listening to garage bands.

I know this thanks to a very thoughtful gift from my cousins-in-law: a copy of the 2013 documentary, It Came from Detroit, chronicling the garage scene before, during and after the White Stripes made it big and gave the world a glimpse of the home-grown music scene.

The way the musicians tell it in the film, many of these bands were formed out of boredom by music geeks who clogged the aisles of record stores looking for albums by early 1960s American bands like Bay City’s own ? and the Mysterians. Having no experience playing an instrument wasn’t necessarily a barrier; friends would pick up a guitar or a pair of drum sticks and jump right in. As more bands formed, they took over whatever space was cheap and available (dive bars, bowling alleys, stripper transvestite clubs) to play for whoever would show up. The sound – fuzzed up, fun and really loud – was dubbed “Detroit garage rock.”

The crowds grew, the bands (which often shared or swapped players) got better known around town, and while they weren’t exactly able to quit their day jobs, bands like The Demolition Doll Rods, Electric Six and The Detroit Cobras were able to play rock music their way – as this video from The Gories shows:

 

Then came Jack and Meg White.

Jack had played with a number of Detroit bands like Rocket 455 and the Hentchmen, but once the White Stripes started, they were on a different trajectory. The documentary uses their rise to the top as a line of demarcation between a time when music was just a way for friends to get together by making music, and one in which Detroit bands like the Von Bondies were getting national praise and international exposure … which didn’t last long.

It Came From Detroit took ten years to film and features dozens of interviews and music clips. I’m glad that many of these bands are still playing (I’ve seen a couple recently) and grateful their commitment to having fun onstage hasn’t waned. And as for those that are hiatus or broke up long ago, at least we can experience some of that Motor City magic on screen. As my cousin writes,

Looking back it was by far the most enjoyable job I have ever had. For 9 years 3-4 nights a week my job was to go witness great rock and roll shows, well for the most part at least.

There are lots of stories to go along with all those shows. It did kind of dampen my enthusiasm of seeing national acts in larger venues, knowing that I saw so many great bands that were just as good and many times far better than those big touring bands.

Buy the documentary, spread the word, and share your experiences here. In the meantime, enjoy this clip from Ann Arbor-based The Paybacks:

 

See you on the flip side …

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Right Around the Corner: The Detroit Cobras at the UFO Factory

29 Dec

Tied and TrueThis year has been a personal best for concerts. I saw some of my favorite bands of all time and went to nearly every major Detroit venue, many featuring not just places to sit but actual seats. It’s been grand.

My final show of 2014 was a departure. I and my intrepid concert buddy Lois ventured to the UFO Factory in Corktown to see a local favorite I’ve wanted to catch live for a long time: the Detroit Cobras. This outfit’s specialty is doing lesser-known R&B songs with a pumped-up tempo. One of my favorites is “Right Around the Corner,” originally recorded by newly-minted Rock & Roll Hall of Famers the “5” Royales:

Having missed the Detroit Cobras the last time they were in town, I made sure to buy tickets in advance. (Lois’ comment: “At these low prices, I’m guessing there are no seats.” Correct.) Another sign this was not going to be the usual Ticketmastered affair: my online receipt confirmed the date of the show as follows:

Start Date: December 27, 2014 9:00 PM
End Date: December 28, 2014 2:00 AM

I made a note to myself to use those Starbucks gift cards I got for Christmas. It was going to be a long night.

Tim V. of The Hentchmen

Tim Purrier of The Hentchmen

There were three warm-up acts on the bill, all of them new to me: Twine Time (not too bad, featuring a drummer who looked like he had just gotten his learner’s permit); J. Walker & the Crossguards (meh); and The Hentchmen. These three guys have played together for more than 20 years; Jack White sat in with them back in the old days. The guitarist, Tim Purrier, is a force of nature, unleashing muscular garage rock with every song. Great, great stuff.

When the Hentchmen wrapped up, it was after midnight. By then the place was filled to capacity with an admirable mix of age groups, although it was pretty much an all-white crowd, as has been the case at all of the shows I’ve attended out here (even Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings’ audience wasn’t particularly diverse). Some local rock stalwarts were rumored to be in the room: one of The Romantics was standing in the back, along with a guy from The Howling Diablos. The DJ kept things lively, blasting punk singles louder than any of the bands; Lois gamely shielded her eardrums. Finally some of the Cobras got onstage to set up. We were more than ready.

Rachel Nagy

Rachel Nagy and a Cobra

The constants of the band over the last two decades have been singer Rachel Nagy and guitarist “Mary Cobra” Ramirez. They look like the gals you want with you in a bar fight: tough and battle-tested. Nagy was the last one on stage, puffing on an e-cigarette and adjusting her t-shirt to better feature her tattoos. They got on with the show, kicking out three or four boppy, garaged-up songs in 15 minutes.

Before one of the tunes ended, however, Nagy left the stage. The remaining band members took it in stride, cracking lame jokes to cover for a few minutes. Then she returned to explain her absence, looking a bit worse for wear:

“Clearly I’m not as punk rock as I used to be,” she admitted. “I don’t throw up onstage anymore.”

Dearie me …

Whatever the cause for her indisposition (heat stroke? jello shots? stomach flu?), Nagy and the band got back into the groove. By 1:15, the 25-ish lead singer of Twine Time, boozy and uninhibited, was attempting to chat Lois up, and I had had enough of contending with the giant photographer blocking my view. The ink of our hand stamps had faded; we’d proven our mettle; it was time to go home to the suburbs.

I have gone to more concerts in five years in Detroit than the rest of my years combined. No doubt this has to do with my advancing age, knowing I’d better do it now before my aching back won’t let me stand in General Admission anymore. Still, rock music isn’t some fountain of youth for me. It’s not my aspiration, either; as much as I wish I could have sung back-up for Joe Cocker, I would have wanted to do so in 1969. And Lord knows no matter how many shows I attend, “cool” will never be synonymous with my name.

I simply like to feel the music as well as hear it, surrounded by fellow members of the tribe, especially when friends and/or family agree to share, or at least humor, my obsession. It’s fun; it’s silly; it’s glorious; it’s rock and roll.

May the journey continue in the New Year and beyond.

See you on the flip side … and here’s to more music in 2015!

P.S. A special thank you to everyone who has bought, read, reviewed and talked up Love and Other B-Sides. You helped make 2014 truly spectacular!

Howlin’ for You: The Black Keys at the Joe Louis Arena

20 Sep

Black Keys screen - Auerbach

Dan Auerbach

Black Keys screen - Carney

Patrick Carney

Concertpalooza came to a close on September 12 in a familiar place: the Joe Louis Arena, experiencing the Black Keys with my loved ones as concert buddies (this time, my partner along with our younger daughter). It was the perfect show to cap off an exhilarating summer of live music!

Props to the headliner for choosing stellar talent as opening acts. In 2011 they had the Arctic Monkeys on board. Our leg of the tour this time featured Cage the Elephant while other lucky people get to see Jake Bugg or St. Vincent; any of those bands could hold their own topping the bill. Cage the Elephant’s music is bouncy and fun, personified by their inexhaustible lead singer Matt Shultz. You may know their single from 2009, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” Check them out!

“Fun” isn’t the word I’d use to describe the Black Keys, though. Their music is fuzzed out, feedback-fueled blues rock … and their personal lives are even more distorted. Most of what I’ve read about them – the horrifying account of guitarist Dan Auerbach’s recent divorce; the 5000-word piece in Salon that drummer Patrick Carney’s wife wrote about their divorce; the Twitterstorm Carney kicked up over Justin Bieber; and the TMZ-fed feud Jack White forced onto Auerbach when he questioned Dan’s worthiness as a blues musician (sample hissy fit: Jack told his ex-wife to pull their kids out of the Nashville elementary school where Dan’s daughter attends) – tells me these guys are drama magnets. Lighthearted they ain’t.

Therefore, it was surprising and gratifying that they seemed to have a great time performing at the Joe. Auerbach did a lot of smiling between numbers, thanking the audience and raving about Detroit fans. (Who knows what Carney was feeling since he rarely smiles and doesn’t talk during concerts; he’s Teller to Auerbach’s Penn.) Auerbach’s bottom-heavy guitar style, snaky licks and atmospheric songwriting keep the songs tight and catchy; plus, the guy’s got a strong, distinctive voice. Carney is the first to agree with my partner that he “sucks at drums,” and he swerved off tempo more than once during the evening. When he was on, though, he brought the heavy ammunition.

If you want to bone up on less gossipy, more nuts-and-bolts trivia about the band, watch this:

Since I saw them in 2011, the Black Keys have cemented their status as a straight up, non-pop, 21st-century rock-and-roll band. For the two dudes from Akron, there wasn’t another choice. As Carney said in Rolling Stone,

When we were in ninth grade, we were well aware that if we wanted to go to a good school, it wasn’t a possibility – that we didn’t have the money. So it’s like, what do you have from there? You have rock & roll!

Detroit needs rock and roll. The city is fighting for an identity we can be proud of, something beyond blight and bankruptcy. Bands that shout “Detroit Rock City!” earn a roar of appreciation. Auerbach and Carney went a step further, honoring a local hero by playing for their first time ever a cover of Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Not for the first time that evening, half the audience (the male half anyway) broke out their air guitars, danced without rhythm and high fived each other, proud of themselves and damned glad to be there no matter what the troubles were outside the arena.

The Black Keys understand how a guitar and a drum kit can blast away your problems, and for that we’re all grateful.

See you on the flipside … and mark your calendars: I’ll be one of the featured local writers at the Books & Authors event at Leon & Lulu in Clawson on October 26, promoting Love and Other B-Sides to my closest friends and perfect strangers from 11 AM – 5 PM. Come see!

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