Bowery boogie

Apr 9, 2003 at 12:00 am

It is positively invigorating these days to discover a youngish band up from the grubby indie underground that understands what a damn hoot it is to play rock ’n’ roll. That is, rock ’n’ roll that sounds as though it burped straight out of the Bowery circa 1976.

New York City’s Crimson Sweet is a chick-fronted three-piece band that gets it, and the accompanying jokes. Self-depreciating and truly in love with rock ’n’ roll, the band is earnest about what they do while at the same time grasping the bleak truth that playing the devil’s racket will rarely, if ever, pay the rent.

“I got to make some money somehow,” laughs guitarist-vocalist Polly Watson via cell phone from her hometown of New York City. She’s on the run between freelance copy editor gigs. Her cheery personality is disarming; she could be someone you’ve known for years.

The group formed in 1999; Watson and bassist Rob Kongress had never played in bands before. The only vet is Al Huckabee, who was in a mid-’90s Ohio band called (insert chuckle here) Ugly Stick.

After having learned their instruments on the fly, the band’s first gig was at a Brooklyn talent show in which they lost to a man who re-enacted a Jerry Lewis Penthouse magazine interview using a hand puppet.

The band quickly spit out a few indie 7-inchers. In keeping with DIY ethos, they booked their own tours and hit the road as often as humanly possible, thus allowing momentary escape from their daytime cubicle cages.

The Flying V-wielding Watson says Crimson Sweet is at ease with their DIY musical peers. “Being in our late 20s solidly puts us right in the middle of the bands we play with,” she explains. “Either the 18-year-olds just getting going or the 40s troupers who are, like, ‘we’re never going to stop.’ Like Dead Moon, who just keep going and going; those are like our heroes.”

The band’s full-length debut Livin’ In Strut — just out on San Francisco indie On/On Switch — unveils the band’s unabashedly worry-free aesthetic, and is a welcome wedge of fist-hoisting rock ’n’ roll.

Their worthy cover of Silverhead’s 1973 stomping classic “Hello New York” isn’t just a decorative idea to hype their New York residency; rather, they sincerely like the band.

It’s safe to say that few under the age of 30 have ever heard of the sadly unheralded Sliverhead. “There’s got to be 18-year-olds into Silverhead somewhere!” laughs Watson optimistically. “I found some college fan Web site for Michael Des Barres (Silverhead vocalist and onetime hubby of groupie giant Pamela Des Barres), which is funny, as we’re just waiting for him to come after us for his 85 cents in royalties.”

Livin’ In Strut reveals little in the way of subtlety, and there’s no pretense to be anything other than what it is — mirthful rock ’n’ roll that is never derailed by shoe-gazey gestures or slacker-ready posing. Crimson Sweet isn’t afraid to show their adoration of late-’70’s rock either. Hence their love of Cheap Trick, the Stones, Aerosmith and X.

Unlike many of today’s “rawkers” who scowl in forlorn press photos and on disc, Crimson Sweet’s music and attitude smirks and giggles their way down rock ’n’ roll. All three band members harbor no illusions about becoming bigger-than-life stars.

The band is currently gearing up for another Midwestern tour, one that finds them playing Detroit for a third time. Past stops included a show at the sadly missed Gold Dollar and a memorable Old Miami experience where they met “a guy whose job it is to take body parts to hospitals!”

The band is grateful to be playing at all, and is ready to swallow whatever comes their way as long as it means time off from their dreaded day jobs.

Explains Watson, “I saw some horrible articles in the press after the Rhode Island thing about what a really rough life bands like Great White have to live, these old guys still touring, saying it’s not that glamorous.” She pauses, and adds, “Shit, it still beats the hell out of being cramped up behind a desk everyday.”


Crimson Sweet will perform at the Lager House (1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit) on Wednesday, April 16. For information, call 313-961-4668.

Ricky Phillips writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]