City Paper is not for tourists
Provided neo-garage rock doesn’t get shunted aside in favor of discofied pop-metala distinct possibility, by the way, now that Electric Six have bluffed their way onto the Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle soundtrackthe Von Bondies should soon be megastars. Like fellow Detroiters and occasional tourmates the White Stripes, the Bondies have racked up reams of critical hosannas thanks to a style of blues-inflected rock so elemental a child could master itprovided, of course, his mom had been blasting the Nuggets series at top volume back when he was still safely ensconced in her womb. The prototypical Von Bondies numbermurky, feral, and positively oozing with sexgives new musical meaning to the word “primordial.”
Unlike the White Stripes, though, the Von Bondies don’t buy the idea that rock ‘n’ roll is a form of hero worship. If Jack White plays guitar and sings as if he were auditioning for the part of Johnny B. Goode, lead Bondie Jason Stollsteimer is more the kill-yr-idols type. On the evidence of his band’s output so far, it appears that the guy thinks such blues maestros as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters had about three good ideas totaland that Nuggets luminaries such as Love and the Seeds had, at most, two. The Von Bondies’ mission is to splice ’em together and then spark ’em to life with a jolt of ’77-style cacophony. If the whole thing blows up in their faces, well, so much the better.
In fact, that seems to be precisely the point of the band’s new Raw and Rare. A collection of live-in-the-BBC-studio takes on earlier tunes with a couple of tacked-on live-in-the-rock-club cuts, the album is a tossed-off testament to what two guys (Stollsteimer and drummer Don Blum) and two gals (guitarist Marcie Bolen and bassist Carrie Smith) can accomplish with just four chords, a fuzzbox or two, and a serious addiction to careering 4/4 tempos. On the disc’s most illuminating tracks, the Bondies set fire to a handful of tunes from 2001’s Lack of Communication, lighting them up with a maniacal relentlessness that’s not always evident on that Jack White-produced debut of a long-player.
Freed from its studio shackles, “Lack of Communication” kick-starts the disc with Smith’s throbbing bass, Bolen’s clanging guitar, and a lumbering three-note riff that Stollsteimer laces through the din like razor wire. And when the man steps to the microphone for the tune’s indecipherable first lines, the fun gets fully under way: Not since the Cramps’ great Lux Interior perfected his demented punkabilly yelp has a rock ‘n’ roll frontman managed to sound so simultaneously deranged and in near-total control. Bad music for bad people, indeed.
Ditto for such deconstructed first-album keepers as “Nite Train”a bone-rattling rock ‘n’ blues that also conjures the Crampsand “It Came From Japan,” two minutes and seven seconds of tightly wound chaos driven by thick layers of crusty guitar and the kind of propulsive backbeat that Meg White, bless her candy-striped heart, has yet to muster. And even though the twanging “Cryin’” and “Sound of Terror” also get the fast-and-furious treatment, Lack of Communication’s best tune, “Please Please Man,” retains pride of place here. With his band bludgeoning listeners into submission with yet another variation on the 12-bar blues, Stollsteimer bellows a series of increasingly desperate queries: “Do you like the way I walk?/Do you like the way I talk?/Do you like me at all?”
Well, yesat least mostly. Almost by definition, odds & sods collections like Raw and Rare are spotty affairs. And sure enough, the live cuts that close the album, “Unknown” and another take on “It Came From Japan,” are definitely of the you-had-to-be-there variety. Just as it did on Lack of Communication, “Going Down” makes the Von Bondies’ can’t-miss sonic formulatwo parts blues skronk to one part garage-rock grimejust a little too obvious. And while a cover of Jack Yarber’s “R & R Nurse” scores points with its raunchy-not-nasty lyrics, the track’s insistent bass line comes way too close to “Radar Love” for comfort.
Still, Raw and Rare is further evidence that something weird and wonderful is happening in Detroit Rock City. With Eminem anchoring the town’s mass appeal while bands such as Electric Six, the White Stripes, and the Von Bondies vie for hipster-kingpin status, the city’s scene calls to mind that of Minneapolis in the mid-’80s, when Prince, Hüsker Dü, and the Replacements all had one part or another of the music world in thrall. So here’s hoping that particular parallel holds for at least a little while longer: I can’t wait to hear the Von Bondies’ Zen Arcadenot to mention Slim Shady’s Purple Rain.
Steely Dan once suggested that you can’t buy a thrill. Most music bizzers would beg to differ, of course, but the guys in London-based outfit the Libertines seem to agree: They’re giving their latest one away.
The number to dial is www.baby-shambles.org, the domain name for a low-rent, two-page Web site that makes judicious use of the Courier font and just happens to feature a treasure trove of Libertines detritus collectively known as Babyshambles Sessions. Clocking in with 40 MP3s in all, the siteor so claims the proprietoris the result of a meeting with the ‘Tines in the lobby of New York’s Hotel Chelsea. There to pick up a package of publicity materials, “Helen” left instead with three CDs of tunes and instructions from the band to make them available posthaste. According to guitarist-vocalist Pete Dohertynow sidelined with “health problems”the discs contained the only copies of the songs.
It’s a pretty good story as rock ‘n’ roll apocrypha go, and subsequent reports have it that the tracks were actually recorded in the Chelsea, perhaps even in the romantic Sid and Nancy suite. That claim, actually, is pretty easy to believe: Songs such as “Skag & Bone Man” and the wistful “Don’t Look Back Into the Sun” have the muffled sound of a band trying not to disturb the David Lynch character in the room next door. Percussion throughout is mainly of the cardboard-box-and-tambourine variety, and the guitars are mostly acoustic.
The whole thing is pretty scattershot, as you might expect from this bunch of veddy British classic-punk revivalists. Some tracks don’t have titles, and the band takes multiple stabs at several of them. “Albion” gets three attempts, so it’s a good thing it’s the best of the bunch, a shuffling, punkified folk tune with words that seem stolen from Ray Davies’ notebook. The song works in the same way that, say, “Waterloo Sunset” does, conjuring a whole world with just a few seemingly random details: “Gin in teacups/And leaves on the lawn/Violence at bus stops…/A four-mile queue outside the disused power station.”
The funniest thing here is Adam Green (of Moldy Peaches fame) singing “What a Waster”from the Libertines’ must-have first album, Up the Bracketin that so-earnest-he’s-gotta-be-jokin’ voice of his. The worst of the completed tunes is the band’s take on the Peaches’ lame-o “Who’s Got the Crack,” which remains as grating and unfunny as ever. Elsewhere, several unfinished tracks portend a great sophomore LP once the band checks out of the hotel and back into a legitimate recording studio.
Given Doherty’s troubles, though, it may be a while before that happens. Until then, Babyshambles Sessions makes a fine, if decidedly wobbly, stopgap. CP