Geek soul

Mar 3, 2010 at 12:00 am

Wrong Numbers guitarist Matt Thibodeau is gleefully reliving the time when members of his band were robbed at gunpoint in front of his house. "We had a gig at Northern Lights and, afterward, we had a little party," recalls Thibodeau, before adding a surprising laugh. "There were some members of the Party Stompers and a couple of guys from my band just hanging out. These guys came up to us with an automatic gun and a pistol. They patted us down individually and took our money, cell phones, credit cards. Then they left. We made a police report, but they never caught the robbers. I think I know who did it, though. There was this crazy guy in the neighborhood who was stalking me." He pauses. "I don't live there anymore."

Perhaps it's not earth-shattering news that a group of guys living in the city of Detroit were threatened with guns in the middle of a porch party last spring — but the fascinating thing is how this band responded. Thibodeau laughs throughout the tale. And then he concludes: "It's just something kinda interesting that happened to our band."

Yes, even robbery seems like fun to the Wrong Numbers, and that's the operative word throughout their conversation. "The whole thing is just about fun," he says, and then adds, "We have no pretensions about doing anything with this or achieving something grand. It's all about the fun."

Put simply, the Wrong Numbers are some of the most laid-back guys you'll ever meet in this rock 'n' roll malarkey. Not even a gun in the face will put them off stride. They claim they're playing music just for laughs. And yet, when they set foot onstage, they apparently leave their carefree sides in the dressing room, because a Wrong Numbers set delivers total, raw, unadulterated passion.

Observers are usually most struck by lead singer Jason Clark, a mass of contradictions. He looks like a white Urkel, sings like a white Stevie Wonder. With his vacant stare and thick glasses, there's nothing to hint at a voice in the same vein as such hometown brethren and sistren as Mitch Ryder, Scott Morgan, Rob Tyner, Bob Seger, Aretha Franklin and, of course, Stevie Wonder. 

Thibodeau acknowledges that "People wonder what's going on when Jason opens his mouth." Offstage, the singer is incredibly shy. He admits he's somewhat getting over that, though, as the shows pass by and more people get turned on to the Wrong Numbers. "I was just always shy," he says with a blush. "It was really hard for me to sing in front of people for a long time. This doesn't come naturally for me. But then, I don't think it's natural for anyone."

The Wrong Numbers have been together for 18 months. When they wowed the crowd at the Blowout pre-party at the Majestic Theatre last year, pretty much stealing the night from the headlining Meatmen, they had only been together for six months. However, they'd been friends for a long time before forming a band. 

"Jason and I go way back," smiles the guitarist. "We used to both live in the Cass Corridor in the mid-'90s. He'd never been in a band before in his life, but I've always known he's a good singer because he sings all the time. So when we decided to give this a try, I got a guy I went to school with — Todd Boschma — to play drums. My friend 'Spooky' Dave [Uricek] was convinced to play bass and — voila! —we had a band. The whole idea behind it was based on the fact that I'm a record dork. I love old Detroit soul. And I knew Jason could sing well enough to really pull off those songs. So we just started drinking and playing really loud in my basement."

Thibodeau admits that it's the thrill of playing in a band with his best friends that makes the whole experience worthwhile. "It's just surreal because we've known each other for so long but never thought about forming a band before this," he grins. For a relatively new group, the band has been fortunate enough to play some cool gigs, including two Blowout appearances and last summer's Cityfest. It's not always easy, though.

"We're in Detroit," says the ax man, stating the obvious. "You play the Lager House, then the Painted Lady. Then it's like, 'Where do we play now?' Sometimes a good gig will fall in our laps. We've had good gigs with [alt-Americana rockers] Duende! And [singer-songwriter] Brandon Calhoon has given us some good shows because we can bring girls out." He laughs before turning reflective. "We need to play some shows outside of Detroit. But Jason and his wife just had a baby, and he works two jobs. So that makes touring difficult. We all work. We're just a bunch of old guys."

No matter how old the members of the Wrong Numbers are — mid-30s, by the way — their set at this year's Blowout promises to be a highlight. They really are an archetypal party band, pulling in rock 'n' soul influences like Humble Pie, the Faces, Free and the Stones from across the Atlantic to blend with their natural Detroit sound. They're really that good. 

Thibodeau remembers Blowout 2009 fondly: "Bobby Emmett [formerly of the Sights, who recently released a stunning solo disc] was playing with us for a short while — and that was the only gig we got to do with Emmett playing a B-3 organ ... although carrying the B-3 there was not a good memory." He laughs. "Horrible! But the actual show was a ton of fun." There's that word again! "We were going to light [the organ] on fire during the show but we got cut off at the end. It was actually ridiculous that we even got the gig, as far as I'm concerned. But it was super fun." OK, guys, we got the point!

One suspects that the Wrong Numbers will be going all out to top last year's performance. And Thibodeau is genuinely excited. "We have a good slot this year, at the New Dodge," he says. "We have some new songs that we're gonna unveil. Jason keeps coming up with these goofy ideas ... and we turn them into songs. And, of course, Jason will wear some flamboyant outfit. Or maybe he'll just take his clothes off."

In fact, Clark's plan is perhaps even more disturbing than public nudity. "I have sailor pants that used to belong to my dad," acknowledges the singer, swallowing a chuckle. "They're, like, two sizes too small for me, so I think I'll try to squeeze into them. That's about it." As if that's not enough. ...

And to think, 18 months ago, he was simply shy.

The Wrong Numbers play Saturday, March 6, at 1 a.m. at the New Dodge. With Bazooka Jones, the Marvins, the Let's Talk About Girls reunion and the School of Rock showcase.

Brett Callwood writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]