August 6, 2010
Here’s what I did last week on my summer vacation.
I spent several days last week in New York City. The major chunk of my time was spent at musical events (and riding the subways to get to them).
It was a near-impromptu trip, an impulse vacation. What sparked it was something I saw on the internet about The Detroit Breakdown, a free outdoor show at Lincoln Center sponsored by The Ponderosa Stomp Foundation. On the bill were two bands that rocked my reality as a junior high kid: Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels and ? & The Mysterians.
Even more interesting were slightly more recent Detroit groups including garage/punk heroes The Gories and Death, a resurrected proto-punk group.
Here’s the magical part. Only moments after I made my plane and hotel reservations, I got an email invitation from the promoters of another free show: Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds — led by a guy who’s been a member of The Cramps, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and The Gun Club — who were playing at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn.
To me, this was a cosmic confirmation from the universe. Then later I learned that Gogol Bordello would be playing with Primus the night before the Detroit Stomp. Glory hallelujah!
Here’s a rundown of the music I saw last week:
Here’s a rundown of the music I saw last week:
* Sweatin’ to the oldies: ? & The Mysterians and Mitch Ryder offered a sharp contrast in their different approaches. And I have to say that ? and his band kicked major rump. From the moment he bounced onto the stage wearing a cowboy hat and a pink-and-purple jacket with Buffalo Bill fringes, ? was a psychedelic sprite belting out his rock ’n’ soul.
The Mysterians included all their original members — five Chicanos who grew up hanging out and playing music with one another. They’re tight and yet have an easy way together. They’ve done all these songs a jillion times, but they still look like they’re having the time of their lives playing them.
Ryder, on the other hand, had a bunch of new players who looked young enough to be his grandkids. These Wheels weren’t even hub when Ryder was tearing up the charts with “Devil in a Blue Dress” and “Jenny Takes a Ride.” All were proficient musicians, but they lacked that warriors’ bond that comes from years on the road.
But the main difference between the two is that ? and crew have retained their garage-band spirit, while Ryder’s band had a classic-rock edge. Ryder’s band even had a big production number that started out with tinkly-winkly piano versions of Rolling Stones songs like “Ruby Tuesday” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” leading with epic guitar crescendos to an overwrought version of “Gimme Shelter.” (I left during the drum solo. I just couldn’t take it.)
On the other hand, The Mysterians did a version of The Stones’ “Satisfaction.” But there was nothing grandiose about it. They played the song as I imagine they did in 1965.
The Mysterians got a little outside help. Soul singer Louise Murray of the Jaynetts dueted with ? on “Sally Go Round the Roses.” Murray sang on the original recording of this cool tune. But more impressive, the one and only Ronnie Spector joined the group on their big hit “96 Tears.” It was an unbelievable moment. She basically vamped on the “you’re gonna cry, cry, cry, cry” outro, teasingly adding an occasional “be my baby” to the proceedings.
* The Gories: This was Mick Collins’ group before The Dirtbombs. Collins along with fellow guitarist Dan Kroha and drummer Peggy O’Neill started out in Detroit in 1986 and lasted until the early ’90s. They got back together last year for a reunion tour with The Oblivions. And The Gories still sound fresh, crazy, and aggressively primitive. Beginning with their unofficial theme song, “Hey Hey, We’re the Gories,” they bashed their way through a high-energy set that included Gories favorites like “Thunderbird E.S.Q.” and “Nitroglycerine,” as well as covers of John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillun” and Eddie Holland’s “Leaving Here.” They even went No Wave for a minute and did a cover of a Suicide song.
* Death: Talk about a band that was ahead of its time. Death was a trio of black kids from Detroit, back in the early 1970s, combined the soul and R & B they’d grown up with the Detroit rock of the day.
The son of singer/bassist Bobby Hackney, discovering one of his dad’s demo tapes in the attic, convinced his dad to reform the group. Death’s only studio recordings were released by the indie label Drag City as a CD called ... For the Whole World to See.
Death still roars. The band even did a song it wrote inspired by Richard Nixon, “Politicians in My Eyes.”
* Gogol Bordello: This international band of maniacs lived up to its reputation of playing intense and crazy live shows. It’s led by Ukraine-born Eugene Hutz, who immigrated to New York City in the early 1990s and recently moved to Brazil.
Gogol, whose members are from all over the world, play a high-charged rocking fusion of traditional Gypsy music — violin and accordion are important elements — other traditional European sounds, reggae, and more recently samba, creating a sound they modestly call “Gypsy punk.”
At their show on the Brooklyn waterfront, the musicians did some old favorites — “Not a Crime,” “Wonderlust King,” and “Start Wearing Purple” — plus a lot of their latest album, Trans-Continental Hustle.
* Primus: Following Gogol would be a heavy task for anyone. So, sadly, Primus was pretty much a major letdown. I’m a Primus fan and was excited about seeing the group. But after the group’s opening act, Les Claypool and the boys seemed plodding and spaced out.
* Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds: Kid Congo Powers is a hero in the garage-punk sub genre, which doesn’t place the highest value on instrumental virtuosity. Nevertheless, he’s an amazing guitarist who doesn’t need 15-minute solos to prove it. One of his encore tunes was an instrumental I didn’t recognize that sounded like a wild cross between Duane Eddy and “Psychotic Reaction.”
Opening his hourlong set with “I Found a Peanut,” a Thee Midnighters cover and the funniest song from his latest album, Dracula Boots, the Kid let rip with tunes spanning his career, including The Gun Club’s “Sex Beat” and two Cramps tunes, “I’m Cramped” and an extra-sinister “Goo Goo Muck.”
My snapshots of most these shows (and other things) can be found HERE.
Even better, here's some YouTube videos I found from some of the shows I saw. (The first two are from my GaragePunk Hidout pal allison levin's friend Corwin Wickersham.)
? & THE MYSTERIANS with RONNIE SPECTOR
MITCH RYDER & THE DETROIT WHEELS
KID CONGO POWERS & THE PINK MONKEYBIRDS