Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sonic graphical youth

Posted on Sat, Mar 6, 2010 at 4:08 PM

Friday night, standing in front of the Painted Lady, the same building where Lili Karwowski once graced the punk rock nation by just being herself, no matter who were her guests: Iggy, Joe Strummer, Wayne Kramer, you or me. A sign directs us "hippies" to the side entrance of the club, really just a modified Hamtramck vertical duplex that operated as a speakeasy during prohibition, later evolving into Sam's Cafe, the Columbia Bar and most, famously, Lili's 21. The venue had an incredible run from the late 1970s to 2002, when Lili's surviving sons (she died almost three years before) decided to end their party, close the business. FYI: poet-provocateur and Lili's bartender Dan Demaggio wrote this splendid eulogy in these pages in September 2002: http://bit.ly/96fmAi

Painted Lady has acquired its own identity, itself blessed by regular appearances by Timmy Vulgar and his various art-punk projects: Clone Defects, Human Eye and Timmy's Organism. The paint on the walls, the lighting, the details in the back bar may be different, but something of the essence of Lili's remains, even the hippies. And that's no bad thing. It just feels, looks and sounds right in here. The Blueflowers are in full alt-country-psych-shoegaze form, getting rapt attention from fans leaning on the bar, against the wall in the corner near the front, seated around tables. It turns out they're winding it down. Too bad. This is just starting to sound good, especially what turns out to be the last big-hearted, guitar-twanging manifesto. We talk briefly to drummer Marvin Shaouni, drink up literally the last of the Pilsner Urquell, and manage to catch only a glimpse of the power glam duo the Swamp Sisters, before scooting out to Baker's Streetcar for Bloodbird.

The band features the talents of Michael Segal, who played glide guitar with the criminally under-appreciated Majesty Crush, a solid 20 years ago, and has since been active as a graphics artist of local and national renown. Here he's on bass, a power generator for a band that takes some of its inspiration from the innovators of that era (My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Sonic Youth) and gives it a bit 'o Detroit crunch. When I talk to Segal afterward we hit on some sweet commonalities: missing Neptune Records, where he was a fixture until it closed, and the fiery ill temper of late-1970s/early 1980s bands like the Pop Group and the Birthday Party. "You were always down with that shit," he says. "You rock harder than Kim Gordon," I say.

Black Lodge has to be next. We walk over to the Gates of Columbus (since when? What happened to the K of C?) to see the band fronted by Bill Nelson/David Bowie lookalike Kyle McBee. It comes with high recommendations from Segal and others and, no, the band doesn't disappoint. There are traces of Joy Division (heavy), the Cure and the Associates (lite), the Fall and Gang of Four. Sure, sure, you cynical fucks who spot the derived references -- not to mention a neat allusion to David Lynch's Twin Peaks -- are correct. But this band has fun, engages everyone else to do the same, invites friends (the eternally youthful Troy Gregory) and strangers (me) up to share the stage (I've always loved this) filled with sweat and chaos. We're all in this crazy-wonderful life together, is the universal message, and I'm hearing it still.

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