The Dirtbombs, The Killers: 1 December, Highbury Garage
The Garage is a low ceiling/high floor wedge of smoke and sweat, since chain smoking appears to be mandatory among the garageratti, along with blunt black bangs and the hippy hippy shake. The Killers have traveled all the way from Las Vegas to breathe this rarefied air, and they don’t waste any time getting their message across, slicing their brooding ’80s pop with a nasty guitar edge. They make a good noise, like the Cure-meets-James in an angsty Bowie alley, and there are lots of drum patterns that U2 or Simple Minds surely must have patented before 1985, complete with skinny, yelping singer in a black shirt and swirling synthy patches. Good, if you go for that sort of thing. Not the second coming, as predicted by the British music press, but there’s an idea there, even if the songs may be a little thin on the ground.
We catch a glimpse of Chris and Dolf de Datsun spinning an ad hoc blend of the Sweet, AC/DC and the Sights, when the venue owner walks on stage and announces that the Dirtbombs tour bus has been broken into. Londoners know from car crime, and folks loyally swarm the merch booth to sponsor them through their AutoGlass nightmare, bless their vinyl hearts.
OK. It’s not the band’s fault that the vocals are muddy and distorted, and that there’s more guitar clang and fizz than any rumbling bass assault (which seems downright rude, considering that there are two bass players). Certainly no one can blame the Dirtbombs for having a mood on, which they manage to turn into an angry rock ’n’ roll energy by the second song as the drums lock in, and “Underdog” grooves with shambolic charm.
The room is just shy of sold out, and if the whole venue isn’t exactly going nuts, they’re politely enthusiastic. Unfortunately, much of the time, it feels like Mick Collins’ psychedelic soul man routine fronting an aging bar band, with Ko on stage left, who obviously got lost on her way to another gig, but is giving it all she’s got. The eclectic musical vocabulary is like picking through a giant thrift shop jumble of late 20th century American popular music, so it’s intensely frustrating when nothing fits.
The Dirtbombs are a truly schizophrenic experience. Two middle-aged men in black T-shirts look like a bar band from an ’80s cop show, while a petite girl rocks her bass like it’s her drug and her best friend. “I’m Through With White Girls” has the punch, then falls apart in a spectacular fashion. The space rock of Curtis Mayfield’s “Kung Fu,” with Jim Diamond fiddling the delay whilst Collins noodles, falls somewhere between the great alcoholic rock ’n’ roll experience and a flabby soul revue that played at your uncle’s wedding. It’s kinda cool in small doses, but be sure to leave before your auntie starts dancing on the table, or it might get embarrassing — like the irony-free version of the Eurythmic’s “Missionary Man” that presented itself as an encore, whilst a steady procession of punters make their way to the door.
But all things considered, it’s been an excellent year for Detroit-on-Thames. Em and Obie and that gang still hold sway in the Land of Bling. The White Stripes’ Elephant has already gone double platinum — that’s more than 600,000 albums in a country of fewer than 60 million people. “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” hit No. 12, “The Hardest Button To Button” scored No. 13, and “Seven Nation Army” went Top 10 in the UK’s highly competitive singles charts, which, unlike in the United States, is based solely on sales.
Meanwhile the Electric Six haven’t done badly for themselves, either. “Danger, High Voltage” got to No. 2 on the singles charts, thanks to obsessive BBC Radio One airplay and a twisted hook that needs surgery to remove, and “Gay Bar” has scored a No. 5, at a much more competitive time of year. Fire’s release was delayed in the UK by six weeks while the band struggled to get into a studio during the middle of a tour to change a lyric for the radio release. “Let’s start a war/Let’s start a nuclear war” was replaced with “Let’s do an edit/Let’s do a radio edit” as bombs fell in the Middle East, and Fire has gone gold and is still doing laps, in spite of the delay. Their show at Brixton Academy was sold out, which is no mean feat considering the venue’s capacity is just above 4,000. And the guest list was closed days before. My trusty snapper and I considered paying the touts, until we realized that we’d rather eat this week, and so had to content ourselves with the Christmas lights of Brixton and the bootleg spread on the sidewalk. I was overcome by some strange rock ’n’ roll version of contentment — you know, when all feels right with the world and your team gets to win.
So rock your holidays, Detroit. Your prodigal sons and daughters have done you proud. Waterloo Sunsets to Motor City Love,
ShireenShireen Liane is a UK correspondent for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].