Saturday, March 7, 2009

THREE DOWN, ONE TO GO...

Posted By on Sat, Mar 7, 2009 at 9:11 PM

Man, I felt exhausted going into Blowout after putting all the editorial stuff together. and, today, finally, I'm an absolute zombie. But I figured I'd better scribble down a few random thoughts from these last three nights of my second-ever Blowout, which Brian Bowe once described to me on the phone as "Detroit's South by Southwest." Well, not quite, exactly... although the weather last night made it pretty damn close, at least in terms of atmosphere. So before I forget everything, as my throat gets sorer and my head begins to ache even more, here goes:

Day 1: It doesn't really matter who plays the Pre-Party, I've figured out... and in a couple of cases, it really didn't matter who was playing this year's party, and I mean that literally. It seemed like I spent a little too much time earlier in the evening trying to find melody (and I don't mean Baetens... although I think I did see her but there were a lot of people I thought I recognized across a room that night but wasn't quite sure; it was that kind of an evening). But the Pre-Party is really less about the music than it is about the socializing (it's actually all about the socializing), and it was nice to run into a lot of current and old friends -- Bootsey X, Kevin Knapp and John Sinclair, among the latter -- a few of whom I haven't seen since last year's Blowout. Visiting was nice, even if the dude in the KISS makeup with the gray beard onstage at the Magic Stick kinda scared me, as generally do big, burly guys wearing Viking helmets and playing heavy metal. The Gepetto Files' Brown Streaks routine was kinda amusing, though, I guess.

When I later walked back into the same room, I was greeted by what sounded like a wonderful, white soul/R&B cover band, sorta like early J. Geils Band or the Rationals, complete with a Hammond organ, courtesy of a former Sight, being played by one of the strangest-looking bands I've seen it all these years of seeing bands. When one guy stands 12 feet tall and the other two are shorter in stature, the tall dude should probably be standing on one of the far ends of the stage and not between the short guys, symmetrically and aesthetically speaking. But that's just my opinion.Meanwhile, the singer of the Wrong Numbers had this absolutely terrific soulful voice but still made me think of It's Pat! from Saturday Night Live, thanks to the shtick. Well, I think it was shtick. At least they didn't scare me...

Appreciated Octopus's energy, although I once again couldn't find melody (Baetens or otherwise) there, either. The hooks didn't grab me the way I thought they would, based on the hype, although the sound in the room wasn't great. Nevertheless, the drummer still played like a multi-armed octopus and was quite impressive overall. Would like to see them elsewhere sometime. But Silverghost totally managed to bring it home; damn, Marcie is a striking performer and personality... and the duo was probably the most exciting thing I experienced the whole night. Outrageous Cherry delivered as well, though their sound was also pretty sucky...and it's a shame that Eve's well-planned and thought-out time schedule was already off, as Silverghost started before Matt and crew took the stage (it was supposed to be just the opposite), but the crowd had increased by the end of their set. Matt's an underrated guitar player. I think that every single time I see him play.

The Meatmen have been saying they suck for decades, probably since the first time I saw them in the early '80s at Club Doobee in East Lansing... and I guess I suck as well because I decided to split early in their set.

Day 2: Started the night at Paycheck's, which is awfully underrated as a venue in this city. The sound there is always terrific, the sight lines are great, and there's always space to move your arms and stuff (unlike a few other places this week). But I also felt it was my journalistic obligation and responsibility to check out Last Tourist, especially since one of their members has been one of my biggest fans and supporters since my return to Michigan, making me feel right back at home with his occasional glowing comments and diatribes. I wasn't quite sure what I was going to experience, as some of the things I'd read compared the group to Radiohead and Jeff Buckley... and while I'm an admirer of both, to an extent, I also found myself wondering if Detroit, of all places, really requires a Radiohead/Jeff Buckley hybrid (although in a national music scene that seems to take something like A Flock of Seagulls "seriously," that's probably a moot point). But I walked in right as they were finishing their first song -- and the second tune, "Up in Spades," killed with pop glory and hooks galore. One of the dudes onstage was wearing a Wilco shirt, and while I'm showing my prejudice here, I found myself thinking that although I'm not sure if Detroit needs a Radiohead/Buckley band, we can certainly get behind one who likes Wilco (who's mistakenly, at least imho, been referred to as "the American Radiohead"), right? At any rate, I guess I may have heard those aforementioned influences in the band's final song, which must be their "hit" as far as their fans are concerned, judging from the reaction and recognition. But what wasn't too like? The singer is pretty damn good, a lot of the material is radio-ready (whatever that means in 2009), and the band is tight, including my friend. Every part of me enjoyed it. Even my credentialed old man prostate.

Headed over to Atlas Bar to catch Billy Grogan's Goat 'cause I'm half-Irish and 'cause I liked the CD they sent me. Was surprised upon my arrival to find two of my fave MTers, Megan O'Neil and Bernadette Brown, working the door, which, symbolically at least, added to the Irish spirit and made me think the planets must be aligned. Also bumped into another of my biggest local blogger fans who suddenly wanted (kinda demanded even) me to tell him that I love him... even though I don't think I told the last two women I slept with that I love them and they'd never written vicious lies about me on the Internets... so whatever. Anyway, the Goat band was good and rowdy -- playing punk-ish versions of (mostly) Irish folk tunes. Their new CD sounds a lot more polished than they did live. But then, there are no soundchecks at Blowout, and methinks you could do a lot worse on St. Pat's Day than catching a show by these guys in their natural habitat. I was watching them with my back pressed to a wall, when some dude started talking to some chick at the bar and seemed to think I was actually part of that wall (or at least invisible) as he leaned practically on top of me. I was just about to say, "I wasn't aware that you owned this wall," when I thought better of it (and was later glad I didn't when I discovered the dude did own the wall and the building that housed it, literally). I decided I was probably due back on planet Earth by this point and so I split the place.

The KofC tends to suck you in once you get there, you do lose all sense of time and space, despite everything sounding so bad in both rooms. My friend Kevin managed to drag me away temporarily to catch Mick Bassett & the Marthas (featuring the leader of the JSB Squad on bass for this particular gig) at Small's; Bassett sounds a lot less like Dylan (not that there's anything remotely wrong with that) when he has a band behind him...this one (shades of "Rainy Day Women") including a female trombone player. Regardless of what influences might be there, though, the guy is great on both a songwriting and performing (not to mention a "rock star") level. Back at the KofC, though, Deastro failed to impress with a band behind him (although his online fans are blaming the sound, and I can believe that); "Joy Division," I thought to myself after two songs... before Kevin said, "Ian Curtis for a new doomed generation." I was bummed the schedule in the lounge was running on time. The Atlas had been at least 20 minutes behind schedule, so I'd gambled, betting every place would be behind, and just missed seeing Daniel Johnson. But if his sound wasn't much better than Zoos of Berlin's was, it's probably best to catch Daniel elsewhere later on anyway. And the Silent Years' thing this year was far too ambitious to achieve without a soundcheck. It would be akin to, say, Brian Wilson's current band playing without one. Good idea; good band; bad sound and acoustics. And yet, I had lotsa fun Thursday night. So go figure.

Day 3: If any name will stand out from Blowout 12, it'll certainly be Matt Jones, who delivered a stunning, early 9:20 p.m. set. The Atlas Bar's 61 capacity had to be double that by the time the Ypsilanti troubadour -- who almost looks like a comic strip character, sort of this big goofy kid -- took the stage (I later joked to Eve that the next time MT calls someone the "must-see" of the weekend, we should book him into an even smaller club). But being uncomfortable aside, the music presented by Jones -- who was accompanied by violin and cello -- was gorgeous, exquisite... the superlatives could go on and on (although I'm always baffled when one-third of a crowd wants to yak and yak despite some stark, beautiful music being played right in front of them). Although part of the Ann Arbor folk-rock revival, Jones's music transcends merely one genre, and sometimes might better be described as baroque or orchestral pop. His guitar work is superb; his idiosyncratic voice -- sometimes reminiscent of young Steve Forbert and a slew of other historical antecedents (a few "new Dylan"s among them) -- rich and warm; his stage persona's engaging; his songcraft extraordinary. (I discovered this afternoon that his new CD's a perfect companion to a rainy and dark day.) I asked him afterwards if he was playing South by Southwest this year and he said he wasn't; that he didn't "have the right connections." Connections? Damn. This guy should have connections throughout the musical universe. He could be very big, whatever that means today -- he's certainly that good and deserving of all the hype. Since he reportedly loves Springsteen so much (perhaps in the same way someone like Badly Drawn Boy reveres the Boss), I thought it might be cool to end with a silly nod to Jon Landau and say I've seen the future of folk-pop and its name is Matt Jones.

Stuck around for Battling Sikis in the same club (my favorite early Stones album, Out Of Our Heads, blasting from the sound system was enticement enough to stick around) and was amply rewarded by Scott Harrison's whiskey-soaked voice backed by a thunderous band that included a new bass player, as well as rock 'n' roll star Eddie Baranek (who, unlike so many before him, actually keeps playing when he's doing those groovy little rock star dances) and drummer Dave Knepp (aka Mr. Eve), who's a mofo on the kit. One of the best I've seen in Detroit, and that's saying a lot.

Then it was onto the packed Kof C (which really missed that food stand this year, btw!), where I once again got sucked into the vortex and never even found the people I went there to find. The Dirtbombs actually sounded good in the room, as good as they did when I saw them in L.A. (once with the Cobras), but, believe it or not, the sound in Hollywood's Knitting Factory was never that good, either.

Saturday still looms and the scary thing (though not the same kind of scary as big men wearing Viking hats in 2009) is there are more bands I want to see tonight than any of the previous three. Guess I'll just have to flip a coin and hope for the best, although I may have to slightly favor Spitting Nickels, if only for a little while, 'cause they sent me an e-mail this afternoon with a photo of Mamie Eisenhower in it, and, hell, Mamie Eisenhower is always funny. In fact, I'm heading out the door just as soon as the Boy Howdy! T-shirt is finished drying and the second side of Cat Scratch Fever is done playing...

By the way, if you're coming to this blog for the first time, please go back and read some of the postings that have been written here since opening night. Excellent and frequently hilarious reporting from the likes of Daniel Johnson, the Wonder Twins, Brett Callwood, Chris Handyside, and others. The best commentary you'll find anywhere about Blowout this week, as well it should be since it's our festival. Have fun tonight...

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