The Witches and EsQuire at the Lager House, Detroit
February 14, 2003
There was something more than a little bit incongruous about the dilapidated hep of Detroit’s Lager House being swathed in pink ribbons and balloons for a ‘Valentine’s Day Eggstravaganza.’ It was like Bluto in a tutu. But if anyone can get away with such blatant disregard for street cred, it’s Detroit’s OTHER honkey rapper, EsQuire. Together with the Witches, EsQuire turned the Lager House into a beer-soaked love nest on Friday night.
Following a goofy vamp from the fingers of DJ Deviant on the wheels of steel, EsQuire slithered onstage flanked by his ever-present posse of go-go dancers. Drink in hand, coif in place, and surrounded by pink crepe paper, EsQuire was David Hemmings in Blow-Up cross-pollinated with Corky St. Clair. Spitting out the raps of “I’m Too Good For This,” Q was every bit the jaded performer, baiting, loving, and hating the audience all at once. It’s an act, for sure. But Deviant’s beats are fly, and EsQuire really can rap. That’s the genius in the act – it’s a sex romp, rap show, and In Like Flint gag reel all at once. Sidling into the groove of “Boy Who Invented Rap,” EsQuire had the Lager House crowd in full lather. It’s too bad that the rank fog of 200 cigarettes obscured the stage during “Party In Detroit,” because the go-go dancers’ shit-hot dance moves were setting crepe on fire.
Like Peaches, Hawney Troof, Taylor Savvy, and Stereo Total, EsQuire is preaching the politics of dancing to the eager ears of indie rockers. But we all know indie rockers can’t dance, so what’s up? It could be that by this point, the clichés of hip hop and dance music have become so culturally ingrained, that by placing them in a different context these artists become new again. Or maybe it’s a trip, it’s got a funky beat, and you can dance to it. Either way, EsQuire’s got the goods. He leaves the posturing vulgarity to Peaches and the gender-bending irony to Troof. He lets Savvy get the ladies and accepts Stereo Total as the icy cool Europeans that they are. For himself, he saves DJ Deviant’s addictive production work; a cadre of dancing girls; funny, brazenly on-point raps; and – of course – a brandy and a Xanax. See the boy who invented rap now, before he hosts the next Victoria’s Secret fashion show and gets his own variety program on Telemundo.
If EsQuire taught the crowd how to work it, then the Witches went to work. A Detroit four-piece with soul to spare, the Witches are led by the seductive growl of Troy Gregory. Given that the room was still draped in crepe and hearts, it took some doing on Gregory’s part to lasso the crowd’s attention. But once his onstage shimmy had roped their heartstrings, the Valentine’s Day crowd responded with the groove left over from EsQuire elaborate party trick. The sweaty jams on the Witches’ On Parade (Fall of Rome) are the sounds coming from the backseat of a LTD parked on a dark street. Like a girl in leather pants, “Luv’d Wrong” hooks you with the promise of what’s beneath, while “Everything Been Cool” is like Iggy Pop’s “Wild One” on the wrong speed, or “You Really Got Me” heard through the wall of a cheap motel. So even if the Witches didn’t have EsQuire’s cheeky rhythms on Friday night, they had sexy shit to spare. It’s true: women were seen holding cold cans of Pabst to their bosoms.
There’s 1,500 miles of interstate 75 between Detroit and steamy south Florida, and you can travel each one inside a set by the Witches. The sweat, darkness, and frazzled worldview of their songs is evocative not only of Detroit, but New Orleans or Memphis as well. It’s not clear whether the Witches will (or even want to) benefit from the sudden, sizzling interest in Detroit’s bustling music scene. They certainly deserve to. In the meantime, their Velvets-inspired drone and twisted take on 60s pop will be witnessed at shows like Friday night’s, when people looking for love in all the wrong places found themselves standing in the best place possible. Who knew pink crepe paper could add so much to rock and roll?