Multiply by three

I don’t want to defy your expectations of music journalism’s typical hype-and-hyperbole standards, but the subject of this piece, Detroit trio the Numbers, is a rock band – simple but not plain.

Fact is, the Numbers play a sort of romantic rhythm rock – all energy, tension, grit and fast-forward agitation. That they wear their influences on their sleeves – the Who, the Clash, the Jam, maybe a bit o’ Elvis Costello’s bittersweet hookiness – is testimony to the ongoing power of rock to give you a friggin’ great night out, a better drive home, an ecstatic jig around the living room, hi-fi cranked to 11.

Sure, sure, some of the songs sound familiar (for example, "Billy Rubin," a jaunty but lyrically bleak knockoff of "My Generation"). But, rather than wallowing in mere nostalgic reworkings, singer-songwriter-guitarist Kenny Tudrick uses these familiar reference points to spin bits of dissatisfied angst-pop and classic three-minute rock ‘n’ roll.

And the Numbers must surely be doing something very right – their shows are jam-packed affairs with the dance floor (yes, dancing!) crammed to the gills with a broader-than-usual cross section of Detroit rock fans. That’s part of the Numbers’ irresistible appeal, too. When they commandeer a stage with their manic panic, it’s, foremost, an occasion for a good time.

The Numbers formed in August of 1998 in the wake of the breakup of Tudrick and Scott MacDonald’s former band, longtime East Side rock stalwarts Big Block.

"I was writing songs for the Big Block and I just wanted to keep writing songs," says Tudrick of the Numbers’ genesis. "I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sing or what I wanted to do. I had other offers. Matt (O’Brien) was playing with Kid Rock and they asked me to play drums and I played in the studio, but it was weird. But I loved jamming with Scott – I didn’t want to throw away what we had before."

"I liked the idea of getting together a real tight, real good ‘song’ band. I wanted to basically take my influences and put it in a three-piece band, but also have Motown and soul in it," says Tudrick.

Indeed, the Numbers hit the ground running. Within weeks after forming the band, Tudrick, MacDonald and Tudrick’s brother Bill (the first in a progression of bassists that ended with the addition of former Big Chief bassman O’Brien last March) were playing dates both at home and on the road at rock haunts in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and New York (City, that is).

"I joined the band and two weeks later we played a show," says O’Brien of the pace the Numbers set early on. "And then a month after that we recorded the album."

They recorded Ready, Steady, No!! with producer Al "The Man" Sutton and, again, the pace was breakneck. "We did every song in a day," says Tudrick. "And I’d never sang in a band before this one, so it took me another day to do the vocals. It’s a real live feel. We tried to make it sound like it was live."

For too many bands, when it should be time to rock, the audience gets to hear about the turmoil of the singer’s soul. With the Numbers, though, the turmoil is couched in the context of music that’s irresistibly catchy.

"We especially put an emphasis on the live show, on making it a show you go out to and you feel good as opposed to hearing dreary music," says O’Brien. "There’s a time for that, but we really like being a band that people go out and have a really good time."

"The songs have a contemplative aspect, but it’s got, first and foremost, energy," says Tudrick.

The Numbers appreciate the euphoria of cashing your paycheck on Friday and blowing a good chunk of it that same night.

"We enjoy playing. We put on a suit because we’re going out to play and people take time out of their life to go see us," says MacDonald.

"We don’t want them thinking, ‘Oh, my life’s falling apart,’ because, you know, everyone’s got a hard life."

Or, as Tudrick puts it in the Numbers’ song, "Sometimes": "If this here tune heals a wound, well that’s a start."

Chris Handyside is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]. Handyside writes about music for the Metro
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