Detroit Rock City

At the "Get Hip!" showcase on June 28 at the Warsaw, the big draw was supposedly Scotland's wacky punk outfit the Rezillos, who haven't toured the U.S. before and are famous for that sweet (I guess) 1978 anthem "(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures." But the most interesting bands on the bill had two things in common: Detroit ("It's something in the beer" is Gore Gore Girls frontwoman Amy Surdu's answer to the "Why Detroit?" question) andfemale-centered lineups. Recently, lots of attention has rightly been paid to rock 'n' roll boy geniuses from Detroit, so it's a relief to witness the lady-oriented groups knocking it out, too.

The Paybacks, a four-piece, are all about singer-guitarist Wendy Case, who rasps out tunes like "Black Girl" in such a deep voice that listening to their debut album, Knock Loud, it's easy to assume that the singer's a dude. ("Black Girl," clearly the crowd favorite and the opener on last year's Jack White-produced compilation Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit, was conceived, Case notes, in an effort "to write a song about how hot black women are that showed them a little more respect," adding, "I'm sure it'll be misinterpreted to death.") In her unabashed cockiness, Case is reminiscent of another commanding frontwoman, Texas Terri; ripping through catchy, defiant songs like "Just You Wait," her lack of self-consciousness inspired the rabidly dancing audience, too.

Gore-Gore-a-go-go: astral girl Amy Surdu
photo: Bruce Alexander
Gore-Gore-a-go-go: astral girl Amy Surdu

The Gore Gore Girls, a white-vinyl-wearing trio, take their name not from the ex-VP's bundle of toothy daughters but from Herschell Gordon Lewis's sick 1972 horror flick of the same name, featuring preyed-upon go-go girls. Combining what one reviewer calls "plucky Motown attitude" and garage snarl, they understand the confluence of classic '60s girl groups and loose, legendary Detroit rock 'n' roll à la the Stooges. Nowhere did Surdu's voice sound so clear and purposeful as in her soulful take on Little Eva's 1962 "Keep Your Hands off My Baby," or in the perky 1964 melody "I'm Gonna Get You Yet" by the Dixie Cups. But the band plays dirty, too: The fuzzed-out "Star Struck," a bitchy confrontation with "that girl," was punctuated by grinding surf-rock guitar—utterly mean and sexy at once.

At least five members have been in and out of the Gore Gore Girls since 1996, with Surdu as the only constant; she's lost the lineup from the GGGs' excellent 2001 breakout record, Strange Girls. On, she only mentions "a nasty breakup," adding, "No more witches—let's GET ON WITH IT!" Rounding out the roster now is beautiful bassist Melody Licious, who as a teenager played guitar for the all-girl band Broadzilla; when not a Gore she's, unsurprisingly, in a '60s cover band. Up All Night, the band's newest record, displays Licious's Motown-obsessed influence, especially on cute and kicky tracks like "Tell Me (I'm Your True Love)." But for all the girl-gang sound, this band hasn't been a gang for too long: The newest bandmate, drummer Cathy Carrell, doesn't even play on Up All Night. Though Surdu bust out a little when she played her guitar behind her head on "Cattle Call," the band did not always appear relaxed together, while Surdu's vocals were sometimes hard to hear; the lyrics to the poppy "Astral Man" kept the crowd puzzled. "Edsel Man?" someone offered. Another guess: "I thought she was singing, 'I love my asshole, man.' " —Hillary Chute

Star-Spangled Killer

It was midway through Jerry Lee Lewis's headlining set at the 10th annual Fourth of July Yonkers Riverfest, and while the operators of the fireworks-filled boats waited impatiently out on the Hudson (Lewis had started a half-hour late, and it'd gotten dark already), the man they call the Killer was celebrating Independence Day the way the founding fathers—or at least Sam Phillips—surely intended it. "Drinkin' wine spo-dee-o-dee, drinkin' wine/Pass that bottle to me," he snorted, while a gaggle of revelers from among the 3000-plus in attendance at this free concert ignored the oppressive heat and moved aside the folding chairs to establish an impromptu version of that more perfect union known as the Land of a Thousand Dances. As Jerry Lee glanced down and beheld the sweaty swirl of white, black, and brown bodies that his boogie-woogie had wrought, a thin smile crossed his lips. This was what the Revolution had been fought for, wasn't it?

Before he was through, the 66-year-old Lewis and his still-pumping piano (aside from maybe Hank Aaron, has the world seen better wrists?) had conducted a flag-wavingly patriotic tour of your basic all-American music: blues ("C.C. Rider"), country ("Georgia on My Mind"), r&b ("Money"—"That's what the Killer wants, honey"), and four-on-the-floor rock (three—count 'em—selections from Chuck Berry's Federalist Papers, including "Johnny B. Goode" and "Roll Over Beethoven"). Plus, of course, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Great Balls of Fire," and a few more choice representatives of the hellfire rockabilly that Lewis and the rest of Sun's Million-Dollar Quartet (Presley, Perkins, and Cash) helped win the War with back in the 1950s. The old soldier even pulled out Charlie Rich's "Don't Put No Headstone on My Grave," taking the same indignant stance as that time he showed up at Graceland waving a gun, demanding that Elvis surrender the throne: "I don't want no headstone on my grave," the Killer sneered. "I want a monument." Put that in your rocket's red glare. —Billy Altman

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