Tell it to Carrie…
Like many cities, mine sponsors a series of events during the Summer season to get people out of their houses and hopefully expose them to the wonders of downtown. Like many cities, there aren’t many wonders downtown, but for two dollars you can enter a section of city pavement boasting a temporary stage and beer tents and catch some music on a Thursday night. Last week I headed out of the office at 6:30 (or as I lately refer to it, lunchtime) to catch The Romantics.
I hadn’t seen the band in years – a short set maybe a decade ago – but when they were in their prime they used to roam the NorthEast club circuit. I’ve seen them in snappy red leather (like the latter-day New York Dolls sans commie flag) and often they’d pair up with local legends The Flashcubes. Met them all at one point, they were nice guys catching a good break and taking advantage of it. In the 80s, when they started to split, Jimmy Marinos formed The Motor City Rockers and they were referred to the management company where I was working. They played a great demo, but despite my pleading, I was outvoted 2-1 and they went elsewhere. Had I realized who Robert Gillespie was at the time, I might have followed them out the door.
Video: “What I Like About You”
The band now boasts five members, and while I initially assumed as many as three might be replacement members, I think that drummer Brad Elvis might be the only one with a recent pedigree. Wally Palmar was still up front, Mike Skill (still boasting that mop of hair) stage left, and I’m pretty certain that was indeed both Rich Cole and Coz Canler on guitars. That would mean that the first three guitar players in the band – all of whom replaced each other in the lineup at some point – were sharing the stage. Naturally one of them now handled bass guitar duties, although for the life or me I don’t understand why a few of the songs featured one guitar and two basses. None of them are John Entwistle, so I can only assume that the five dollar Newcastle drafts blurred the set list. I’d hate to think that they were trying to bring the thunder on purpose.
Things started off swimmingly with a robust “Rock You Up“, classic chunky power chords that make you wonder where you last left the guitar so you can bash it out when you get home. But after another kinetic rocker, Wally told the crowd they were going to take it down for a minute. I know the wandering mass of city workers, mullet heads and bikers might not have been jumping up on stage, but give us credit for the ability to withstand more than seven minutes of upbeat tunes without having to lay down. I started to get the feeling that what was set to be a ninety minute set might have a little padding in it.
They sprinkled the more recognizable songs through the set – “When I Look In Your Eyes“, “Stone Pony“, a majestic “Tell It To Carrie” – but at these gigs the crowd only snaps to attention when the big hit records are played. Fortunately The Romantics have two, so “Talking In Your Sleep” and especially “What I Like About You” got everyone’s attention. Even if that meant a few Bic lighters while daylight was still present plus the bane of any reunion gig – some of the worst no-rhythm soccer mom gyrations ever seen, a sad attempt at dancing. (Lady, there are kids here. Get back in your minivan.)
The band played with energy, and Brad Elvis is a showman as well as a keen timekeeper, but there was something lacking. In fairness, the sound at times was atrocious, and powerpop needs to be crisp and clean (although they extended several songs to remind us they are rockers from Detroit, not pansies). My friends wondered whether a shorter, tighter set might have been better, as momentum was occasionally lacking. The strong finish did include the requisite Kinks cover and audience participation, but as my friend Bill aptly put it, we were neither overwhelmed or underwhelmed. Just…whelmed.
The band is supposed to be working on a new album, and they certainly have the chops to pull it off, plus Palmar’s voice is in fine form. Maybe Jack White or Jim Diamond will work their magic and rekindle this flame? If so, Do Me Any Way You Wanna, guys – I’m on board.
The official Romantics website