Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind, gas up the puppy and haul yourself elsewhere to get that great rock and roll fix. Consider caution thrown; this weekend is an absolute-must road trip. (And speaking of throwing caution to the wind, it dawned on me that I not only drove a Honda into Detroit but also had an Astros cap on my rear deck window, which probably didn’t make anyone happy that day, either.)
It’s always a bit depressing to hit a city like Detroit and see a smorgasbord of great gigs happening daily. When you live in a smaller city that doesn’t attract a myriad of artists, you learn to keep your eyes and ears open elsewhere. And when I saw this show coming up, I knew I had to go see the legends in their natural habitat.
The Holy Grail of Rock'n'Roll
I’ve already waxed poetic about Jim McCarty and Johnny “Bee” Badanjek, so no need to rehash what you can read here. But sitting ten feet away, watching living legends play with the fire of a garage band getting their first break, was a life-affirming experience. The show was littered with rock classics with Detroit lineage – most of it from first-hand experience (an announcer stated that “if you’re gonna call them a cover band, remember that they’re covering their own material!“). One of the best examples of rock magic ever recorded is Detroit’s cover of Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll”…so when The Hell Drivers opened the show with that bomb blast, I knew it was time to strap myself in for the balance.
Callahan’s Music Hall is a great place to see a show – tremendous sound, great sight lines and good people. I shared a table with an area guitarist and two lovely ladies (who shall remain nameless in case their alibi for the evening has them elsewhere). The house was packed and the band was electric, despite already playing a hot set at a festival earlier in the day. The set list was a veritable primer for why Detroit is the epicenter of rock’n’roll – The Rationals, Iggy, Seger, The Romantics, and of course The Rockets. They even slipped in Alice Cooper‘s “I’m Eighteen” as a tribute to Jim Edwards’ wife’s birthday. (Note to authorities – she’s young, but not that young.) The dance floor was filled with several Detroit ladies led by the Motor City Rah Rahs (and at the risk of sounding misogynistic, I absolutely did not mind having my view obscured on occasion.)
I flew to New York City a couple of years ago to watch Jim McCarty play with Cactus at their reunion show, and he was stellar. But onstage with this band, McCarty looks re-energized, ripping solos like a man half his age and looking like he’s having a blast in the process. And maybe that’s the key ingredient here – four musicians who appear to really like and respect each other, playing their asses off for the love of the music.
Jim Edwards is an excellent front man (a lost art), whether wielding the air guitar mike stand or hanging himself with a cord during “No Pills”. He’s got a great voice and belts out vocals truly worthy of the classic material. Marvin Conrad is deceptively quiet, but much like Bill Wyman and John Entwistle he saves his energy for what matters, laying down a rock solid bottom with subtle flashes of brilliance. And I don’t know even where to start with “Bee“, who gets more mileage out of a small standard drum kit than most arena rockers with their Starship Enterprise configurations. McCartyjust wailed all night, the highlight might have been the all-out assault on “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, complete with string pulling antics and using the mike stand for a slide – it was absolutely Stooge-esque. His intro to “Oh Well” is a Detroit crowd favorite, and my jaw wasn’t the only one on the floor when he put on that clinic.
I could go on and on – the Rationals arrangement of “Respect”, the blistering version of “Takin’ It Back” – twenty-one songs and not a clunker in the bunch. What the future will hold in store for the band remains to be seen, but they mentioned an upcoming live release as well as a show with Alice Cooper for starters. Hopefully someone will wake up and smell the rock’n’roll and get these guys onto stages around the country like they deserve. Until then, I heartily recommend that you follow their activities here, and if you need to jump in your car to go see them…then dammit, you need to do it.
Assuming you have the Desire, of course.