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.
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 Goregoregirls.com, 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
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
Magic and Accident
The legend of sampler wizard Matthew Herbert and his live shows was already growing prior to the cancellation of last September’s Knitting Factory gig, but his ensuing feats only heightened the anticipation for his late-June stand at Mercury Lounge. Herbert’s latest project, Radioboy’s The Mechanics of Destruction—which uses multinational consumer items such as Big Mac meals and Coke cans as sole sample sources for funky-ass rhythm tracks with muddled anti-globalization politics—has become a pop cause célèbre for the art media. And the dance music culturati, suffering through an extended creativity drought, recognized his ensorcellment of smoky jazz and house beats—under Dogme 95-like rules for sampling—as a rare Merlin act in the days of magic-shop DJs.
Yet even Merlin needed assistance in conjuring some spells, and on June 26, Herbert’s quintet (vocalist Dani Siciliano and pianist Phil Parnell, both mainstays, and newly added tenor saxophonist/flautist Dave O’Higgins and trumpeter Peter Wraight) were crucial in creating an aura. When he’d usher them offstage for the rhythmically witty solo Radioboy tracks—manic sprints among three mics and a bank of boards that sounded like groove-oriented, less frenetic takes on Kid 606’s laptop rumbles—he seemed to be misdirecting. Creating music by destroying a Starbucks cup, a box of cereal, and a pair of Gap shorts was a fine jig, but its McLuhan inferences about the politics of disposability needed liner notes (www.themechanicsofdestruction.org).
The real enchantment took place in the interactive whimsy between the players and the leader’s technological setup, when Herbert played equal parts Eno the mixer and Duke the arranger. Indicative of a man who once named a mix CD Let’s All Make Mistakes, he allowed warped sounds and beats to bleed out of whack, improvising immediate remixes. The messy, on-the-spot process was all Pollock; the breath-thin timbres under the electronic twitches were pure Sketches of Spain. And while the patched-together quality may have driven house-music perfectionists batty, it also added a living force nearly nonexistent in today’s clubs. These weren’t just manipulations of old stratagems; they were creations of the new. And how often do you get to witness the makings of legends nowadays? —Piotr Orlov
I’d Rather Go Blind
What organization somehow persuaded Congress that Internet radio, unlike broadcast radio, owes royalties to the copyright owners of the recordings it airs? (First one’s free: the Recording Industry Association of America.) What organization’s division, SoundExchange, gets to collect those royalties and distribute them at its leisure, whether or not its members own the copyrights in question? (Again, the RIAA. Now you figure them out.) What organization does the government’s new webcasting statute assume has had 15 of its recordings played every hour since 1998 on every webcasting channel if there’s not evidence to the contrary? What organization’s biggest members, the five major labels, are making noise about suing individual file-traders, despite the brain-melting PR stupidity that would be involved in subpoenaing Internet service providers and ganging up on music fans?
What major label might nonetheless be a little reticent to sue Madster and Gnutella users, given that its corporate daddy likes to flash strangers the file-trading technology under its ISP raincoat? What other major label is looking like a liability now that its corporate mommy’s stock has nose-dived, with rumors of imminent Enron-itis? What tarnished superstar has been calling a third major label’s chairman “mean,” “racist,” and “very, very, very devilish,” although the star owns half of the same company’s publishing arm, which just bought the Acuff-Rose catalog of every good country song ever? What fourth major label has lavished close to $100 million on a now-obsolete peer-to-peer service, and is now trying to figure out what the hell to do with it?
What congressman plans to introduce legislation allowing record labels to violate the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act if it might maybe perhaps help dissuade those very, very, very devilish file-traders? (Oh, fine: it’s Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California.) What congressman is the music industry’s No. 1 donee in the House, with almost three times as much music-biz money as No. 2? (See above.)
What peer-to-peer monolith is now based in tax-free Pacific micro-country Vanuatu and lards its software with nasty “extras” (read: spyware)? What high-traffic haven for electronic-music buffs is attempting to camouflage itself from teenpop-crazed Audiogalaxy refugees by deleting everything from its front page but three links and a broken GIF? What first-rate but publicity-shy file-sharing site has stopped accepting new users altogether? What do you want to bet that Internet music panic is just a smoke screen for much deeper problems in the record business? —Douglas Wolk