I realized something during The Drapes’ ear-splitting set at Cal’s Liquor in Chicago Friday night. At that same moment, 30 miles to the south, Bon Jovi was on stage doing their thing. As the group of rockers crowded into Cal’s to down Pabst and revel in The Drapes’ sonic re-assessment of the term “power trio,” a sold-out crowd was gathered on the lawn of the Tweeter Center, lighters aloft and swaying like it was 1986. The realization begged the question: 30,000 nostalgic power-ballad lovers vs. 45 rockers in the know. Who’s Rock is right?
Cal’s Liquor does not feature flash pots on stage. Cal’s liquor does not feature a stage. So obviously, the dynamics of The Drapes’ show were a bit different than those Bon Jovi’s fans experienced at their shed show in Chicago’s south suburbs. And Drapes guitarist/vocalist Kevin Mcdonough didn’t use a talk box even once during his band’s 45 minutes of frenetic punk and stockyard blues. But you can bet that, as Mcdonough chopped at his aging Fender, Richie Sambora stood in Tweeter’s cavernous pavillion, lighting it up with the opening notes of “Livin’ on a Prayer.” So pump your fist; raise your glass. It’s all Rock and Roll, whether it’s played for beer money or a down payment on a new mansion in Jersey.
Don’t get me wrong. The conch goes to The Drapes. They’re sweating it out, playing holes-in-the-wall like Cal’s, writing music that references the bootstraps history of Chicago’s South Side while nodding to Detroit City’s chainsaw’d sludge-rock (The Stooges, Laughing Hyenas). Conversely, Bon Jovi was pre-packaged pop-metal from the beginning. Since their mid-80s heyday, the band has cranked out a collection of weak rockers and sleep-inducing ballads that somehow manage to sound amateurish and sad all at once (i.e. their latest LP of tripe, Crush). They know it; their setlist Friday leaned heavily on their anthemic back catalog. But those people out there on the lawn, the ones who (unfortunately) will probably never have their eardrums split open by the electric mud of The Drapes – what about their needs? If nostalgia and power chords combine with Jon Bon Jovi’s looks and showmanship to provide them with a little bit of Rock and Roll heaven, then is that such a bad thing?
Different strokes for different folks, I guess. While some of us will always have bands like The Drapes, White Stripes, The Immortal Lee County Killers, or The Strokes to keep the Rock alive, some people out there still cry to “Never Say Goodbye,” and believe in their heart of hearts that Jon Bon Jovi is their six-gun lover, their cowboy on a steel horse (he rides). What can you do? We can’t all get in on the bottom floor of the video revolution, hire some professionals to write our songs, and end up marrying Heather Locklear. But if Heather or anyone else not familiar with them had shouldered their way into Cal’s on Friday and listened to The Drapes, chances are Slippery When Wet would become a coaster toot suite.