The Drapes: Whose Rock Is Right?

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.

JTL

Caressing the Corporations

As the number of artists and tours that are sponsored by such asinine things as car companies multiplies, it’s good to remember those great shows you saw back in the day, before going to see a band identified you as a potential customer. For me, it all goes back to two defining shows, my first and my foremost.

My first was Bruce Springsteen at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the “Tunnel of Love Tour.” Yes, that’s right, it wasn’t the “Chevy Silverado presents the Snap Into A Slim Jim Tunnel of Love Corona Summer Beach Party on MTV Tour in conjunction with Deloitte and Touche.” It was just a tour, not part of some stupid “festival” (marketing-speak for just another way to cram more salesman into every nook and cranny of available space at your local outdoor amphitheater). Just a single great artist with about the only sponsor being the local Bud distributor. Best of all, the total Ticketmaster service fee was a hell of a lot less than the 50% it seems to run to these days. (In fact, somewhere I still have the ticket stub so I’m going to have to check on that—it could provide some interesting historical proof of the world’s biggest scam.)

Oh yeah, you people will holler about the fact that even back in 1987 there was a commensurate amount of corporate greed that no doubt tainted the Boss’ tour compared to the Glory Days back in Jersey. But it was far less insidious—who can fault the Anheuser-Busch rep for going after a market that’s primed for its product. There are clearly beer sales to be made at the Bruce show; that’s marketing where it makes sense. But pissing away money on image advertising, where there is no potential sales connection, is outright stupid. And it’s an insult to the fans—of both artist and product. To the point of the previous post: Nasty Janet and Wolfie ought to be embarrassed.

The fave show of my youth was Metallica’s first headliner. The “Justice Tour” of 1989 was an absolutely amazing display of all that is great about rock. It was held at an outdoor venue, Val Du Lakes in Mears, Mich. Still to this day I have never seen a more antisocial crowd than the collection of bikers, stoners, mullet-heads, rebellious kids, and general reprobates that attended this concert. The fans would have sooner burned the place to the ground than been identified as consumers. I saw a guy eat a sheet of acid and then smack his face on one of the hard wood benches in the reserved area. He just licked the blood as it trickled onto his lips and continued cackling, laughing and dancing. Throughout the show, people came running down the hill, throwing themselves at the wooden fence that separated the reserved area from general admission. They fought with security guards with bottles, belts and chains. And then there were the booted thugs who smashed cars after the show, screaming the lyrics to Metallica’s cover of the Misfits’ “Last Caress.” Yeah, “I got something to say. I killed your baby today. Doesn’t matter much to me, as long as it’s dead. I got something to say. I raped your mother today. Doesn’t matter much to me, as long as she’s spread.”

Gee, I wonder where the corporate sponsors were?

Now I’m not saying I necessarily advocate the pointless violence and brutality, the sado-masochism and anarchy of the Metallica crowd. But fuck it, those people are the only hope we’ve got: Rock’s essence is senseless rebellion against corporate AmeriKKKa. More power to them; hopefully they smash a few Jaguars wherever they are now. Wherever it is, it ain’t at Metallica shows. I’ve attended a couple since then and the crowd has become completely different, as has the band. They still play the old favorites, but not to any of the old fans. Good. At least those marginalized people, unlike the rest of us mainstreamers, have the sense not to give the music-industry power structure any more of their hard-earned (or stolen) cash.

Bottom line to all this is I’m glad I went to see a few big shows. I’m glad I pissed away a few bucks to make local radio stations, beer companies, cigarette companies, and the ubiquitous T-shirt companies some jack. But Ford Motor Company can go to hell. So can Barry Diller. So can DTE Energy and everyone else who incorrectly thinks that their wack corporation has any place or should play any role in the music business. I listen to music and I like to see it performed live. I like to think about music and write about it. But I don’t drive music, I don’t wear music, I don’t eat music, and I certainly don’t shop because of music.

“I got something to say. I didn’t buy into your marketing today. Doesn’t matter much to me. . . ”

All For Who?

In our on-going efforts to track the nexus between Big Business and Bigger Business, we’ve discovered still another development. As you may recall, Jaguar had been using rock superslug Sting to promote its cars, demonstrating how the Jag can lull Sting to sweet dreams of rainforests or more song-writing gigs for cartoon movies.

But now we’ve learned that Jag is sponsoring Janet Jackson’s “All For You World Tour 2001.” Well, that may not be exactly right: there is a “partnership,” such that those considering the tour will see Jag in the tour title, advertising, promotion, publicity, and even the ducats. Undoubtedly looking something like a NASCAR race with a single sponsor, there will be X-Type display logos all around the venues.

Says Michelle Cervantez, vp of Marketing for Jaguar North America: “Jaguar’s relationship with Janet Jackson is a powerful statement of our intentions to become more accessible to a new generation of Jaguar owners.” Yep. All those people who buy tour T-shirts are undoubtedly going to make their way to dealers, post-haste.

In addition to all of the aforementioned signage and even a car at the venues, concert goers will be subjected to a “video” featuring Janet and a black X-Type. (I am not making this up.) Presumably said video is more commonly known as a “commercial.”

But this isn’t just any run-of-the-mill spot. It was produced by Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks. According to renown Knicks fan Mr. Lee, “Our partnership has assisted Jaguar in communicating to a more diverse audience. This project is a direct result of that strengthening relationship.” The “relationship” he is referring to is a “marketing partnership” between Jaguar North America and 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, which was established in April. Which presumably means that since Nike spots aren’t what they once were, Lee will be creating ads for Jag. (Ah, what about, oh, making movies?)

So let’s review. Sting. Everclear. Aerosmith. Janet. I’m throwing my vote in for GloNo partnering with some automaker. Any suggestions, Sab?

WHITE STRIPES PAINT THE TOWN RED

Chicago’s Empty Bottle doesn’t spend a lot of time feng shui’ing itself. The d├ęcor – mostly old handbills and spray paint – gathers on the walls like ancient gardening equipment in your parents’ garage. Scattered, tired versions of those adhesive stars that glow in the dark put up a good fight, but they can’t compete with the fog from 300 Lucky Strikes. A dilapidated bar leans in one room; another features a pool table sharing space with uprooted thrift store couches. In the far corner of the venue lies a triangular stage, adorned with colorful drapery seemingly pilfered from an Italian matron’s special “company” living room. Though tinged with grime after years of sweat, heat, and Rock and Roll, the drapes can still glimmer when the drummer’s fan blows their gold fringe around.

On a recent evening, the raiment was further accented by the flag of Detroit City. In its four corners lie the colors of France, Great Britain, and America, the three nations that have ruled the city. The city’s seal takes up the middle, with the slogan in Latin: RESURGET CINERISUS. ‘It Shall Rise From the Ashes’ – A statement that refers to Detroit’s vaunted musical history as much as to the crumbling city itself. On Friday night, D-Town’s own White Stripes brought their slash-and-burn blues rock to The Empty Bottle, and represented the vibrant, beating, resilient heart of their hometown.

Jack White plays guitar and sings. Meg White plays the drums, facing her counterpart as he leaps between two microphones. Dressed in matching red and white outfits, with their instruments continuing the motif, the duo’s look is almost Scandinavian in its plainness. Indeed; their sophomore effort, 2000’s De Stijl, shares its name with a 20th century Dutch art movement advocating pure abstraction and simplicity. This focused approach carries to the music. Clean lines of guitar flow out in an arc; Meg’s drumming is like Neal Peart with half his limbs. Their music is blues-based, but its suprising sonic punch is all Rock and Roll. Elements of and references to country & western, Brill Building pop, and even Cole Porter show up in Jack White’s guitar and lyrics, as well as his passionate vocal delivery. With his drummer follwing faithfully along, he pries torrid streams of notes from his fleet of guitars, singing along with himself in a voice that sounds almost childlike when he hits the high notes. Too many influences? Maybe. But think of the source. Detroit, a midwestern city linking two great lakes, has always been a crossroads. 3 nations have ruled it; 3 corporations now control it. The soul and groove of Motown Records shares space with the aggression of The MC5 and The Stooges, and Ted Nugent’s cock-rock soloing ties it all together. White Stripes hear all of this. Jack White spews it out of himself while Meg lays down a beat as straightforward as a Midwestern highway. And the sign reads MEMPHIS – 700 MILES.

Chicago’s music-watching community is notorious for standing still. The fellow in the big glasses and skinny pants in the front row could be seeing his favorite band of all time, and you’d only detect a barely perceptible nodding of the head. White Stripes destroyed this apathy in a wash of red, white, and reverb guitar. After propelling themselves along for almost an hour, Jack and Meg returned for an encore that reached for a third gear. With a quick “Thank You” and an embarrassed, flattered bow, Jack was gone to the green room. Meg sat down on the drum riser, lit a smoke and took in the cheers and whistles. It certainly was a sight – 200 jaded Chicago music scenesters screaming and clamoring for more of White Stripes’ stripped-down, re-built Rock and Roll. After a pep talk, Jack White returned to the triangular stage, crushed out his cigarette (had to be Marlboro – red and white), placed his feet beneath his city’s colorful flag, and with a nod to his bandmate began a final encore of aggressive, plaintive blues rock that made those drapes shimmer.

And Detroit Rock rose from the ashes.

JTL

Monday Morning Coming Down

If you’re like me and the rest of the Glorious Noise editorial staff, Monday morning is when you realize that Saturday’s hangover has not departed with the beginning of the work week, but in fact has removed the For Rent sign from your frontal lobe and has filled the front yard with rusty muscle car parts and broken toys. It’s my own fault, of course, for trying to play the Sex in the City drinking game with wine coolers instead of shots. Coffee will only make you (more) irritable, so in this case, it’s best to open a pack of scratch attack at elimin8.net. Reach for the 33 1/3 project along with your asprin, and don’t call me in the morning. It’s a big download, but that means you can just stare at your screen for awhile, an additional positive side effect. Oh, and use headphones so as to not tip off your boss.

QUEENS OF NOISE: THE RUNAWAYS SHOW BRITNEY WHO’S BOSS

QUEENS OF NOISE: THE RUNAWAYS SHOW BRITNEY WHO’S BOSS

Johnny Loftus

It’s all VH-1’s fault.

The next addition of the network’s ailing “Divas” series – which will likely feature Leslie Carter, Mandy Moore, and the Olsen Twins – will prove exactly what “Divas” does not promote: Women who play guitar will always kick more ass than those who simply sing and look pretty. They should have quit while they were ahead. After the extravaganza’s first incarnation featured actual, professional divas like Aretha, Diana, and Janet, VH-1 had to somewhat broaden the definition of “diva.” Left with C-list young’uns who weren’t around to see Madonna marry Sean Penn, their production probably didn’t inspire any female watching to do anything but switch to an old re-run of Moeesha. The absurd staying power of the Britney brand aside, it’s obvious that the divas are dying. Examples? The recent Josie and the Pussycats redux did not feature a D*Child-style girl group. Instead, a leather-clad Rachel Leigh Cook strummed chords on a black Les Paul. Pacific Northwest stalwarts Sleater-Kinney have finally begun to tear into the national media, achieving for the Riot Grrl movement what it could never muster in its mid-90s heyday: true respect of women who rock. So now that chicks with guitars are back, it’s only fair that The Runaways have their say. Their girl-on-girl rock groove pre-dated the post New-Wave spate of girl bands like the Go-Gos and The Bangles by half a decade. And Vicki Blue is out to prove it.

Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways is an upcoming documentary that has been put together by Blue, the band’s former bassist. It mixes interviews, performances, and tour film together to tell the story of the girls who rocked back when, most notably young, nails-for-breakfast versions of Lita Ford and Joan Jett.

The Runaways weren’t the greatest band of all time. Their tunes suffered from crappy production, and sometimes just weren’t that good. But the attitude was always present, even when their public image was being molded and tortured by Kim Fowley, the svengali who was the Maurice Starr of the 1970s. It was his idea to have the girls perform in lingerie; but it was still Joan Jett who wrote “I Love Rock and Roll,” even if she did have to play it in her underpants. Conversely, when Britney tears her clothes off on M-TV, all she has is her tits and some backup dancers. She can’t smash her guitar, or strike a mean pose behind a big Fender bass. The Runaways may have been a packaged thrill just like Britney and her peeps, but Ms Spears’ll never stick a Marlboro in the neck of her Gibson.

The timing of Edgeplay is perfect. Lita Ford’s been on TV warning of Metal’s return for years, and it turns out she was right. Boy bands and divas can’t rule the stage forever. The triumphant return of the Go-Gos (with new material and not simply another greatest hits package) is in line with the current spate of 80s nostalgia, but their popularity also proves that distortion is finally back. Even Her Diva-Ness Madonna is playing her guitar on the current Drowned World tour. And into this mix comes Edgeplay to show little girls everywhere how fun it is being an 18 year-old girl with long bangs, leather pants, and a scowl that cuts glass.

And the best thing about the documentary? Angelina Jolie is nowhere near it.

JTL

Idlewhile

What is the extent to which we ascribe profundity to a songwriter’s lyric when, in actuality, all s/he was doing at the time of composition was (a) avoiding a cheap rhyme or (b) acknowledging an inside joke? (In the case of a band/performer we don’t like, the reaction to the phrase in question is a variant on the word “stupid.”)

Isn’t this situation analogous to the way that people with “proper” British accents sound intelligent to American ear or, in the case of those of us who are male, southern accents from the mouths of co-ed aged women sound sexy, even though in the first case, the Brit could be as dumb as a post and in the latter, the young woman could be as physically attractive as one?

Just Push

Quick: What do you think of when you think about the Neon? Or the Stratus? Or the Caravan? Dakota or Durango?

Yes, I thought so. Aerosmith.

“Dodge and Aerosmith are a perfect match. Both represent the rebellious and youthful energy that great rock and roll bands and great car brands have come to represent. Who better to partner with a great American brand like Dodge than the greatest American rock band of all time, Aerosmith?” observed Jim Schroer, executive vp, Global Sales & Marketing, DaimlerChrysler Corp., while announcing that Dodge is sponsoring Aerosmith’s U.S. tour.

And listen to this: “We’ve been playing and touring for 30 years and have never had a corporate sponsor. But when Dodge asked if we would be interested, we thought it would be a great fit for a touring band like us. . .cars, truck [sic] and racing. It’s all rock and roll.” That’s guitarist Tom Hamilton.

Let’s see. . .”Greatest American rock band of all time”? Dodge as “rock and roll”?

But wait, as they say in the cheesy commercials, there’s more:

“We are America’s hometown band; the garage band that made it really big out there on the road. You can always count on Aerosmith to play your town. We paved the road, so to speak.” That’s Joe Perry, sounding more pathetic than Steven Tyler did while caterwauling “The Star Spangled Banner” prior to this year’s Indianapolis 500 in a manner that would have done Roseanne proud. “Garage band”?

These poor bastards need to take their medication and get some rest.

One more quote that will make you want to run over the collected works of Aerosmith with a loaded Dodge Ram pickup: “Trust me, this is just the very tip of the iceberg. We have plans in the works that will touch every element of the Dodge family—customers, dealers and employees. This alliance will re-define how two great brands can work together to support each other’s interests, while delivering what all our fans and customers desire.” That’s Julie Roehm, director, Dodge Marketing Communications.

So is that Dodge “fans” and Aerosmith “customers”?

Maybe just a little?

In an interview on XFM Online, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo claims that the difference between now and back when he was at Harvard cultivating the Pinkerton-era material is that “I’m not a miserable little bitch any more. I was in school about two weeks before I realised that it was really boring and wanted to come back and rock.” I think that’s funny. Maybe he’s no longer miserable, but I get the distinct impression that he’s still a little bitch.

By the way, check out Buddyhead’s gossip section for all the latest news about all your favorite stars. It’s rough out there.

Fugazi, Shellac, and The Ex: Sound Of Impact

PUNK ROCK TEARS THE ROOF OFF THE CONGRESS THEATER

Six dollars and your best thrift store gear got you through the door to Chicago’s Congress Theater on Sunday night to watch Fugazi, Shellac, and The Ex unleash guitar tones seemingly designed to tear the marble wainscoting from the theater’s elegant, aging walls. In the finale of two nights’ worth of vintage Hardcore Punk, all three bands proved that being an iconoclast doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t be funky, rock wild, or have the best-sounding guitars of all time.

The Congress isn’t your average punk rock venue. Over its almost 70 year existence, the old movie palace has been the site of almost every kind of event, excluding demolition derbies and rodeos. Still going strong in 2001, its domed roof and gilded Classical Revival-meets-Italian Renaissance trappings looked Sunday upon a legion of Indie Rockers, who descended on one of the Summer’s biggest shows. By this point in their storied career, Washington DC’s Fugazi might as well be the elder statesmen of Hardcore Punk, having among their ranks innovators of not only the early 80s movement that propelled that genre, but also the brains behind bands that years later have come to influence “Emo”: Embrace and Rites of Spring. Together with Brendan Canty (drums) and Joe Lally (bass), guitarists/vocalists Ian Mackaye and Guy Picciotto have honed Fugazi’s propulsive post-core groove, continually pushing and challenging their music, as well as their own emotional boundaries. Their uncompromising stage show is legendary – as Canty and Lally build a watertight vibe, Picciotto flails and pikes, while Mackaye’s bald head reveals veins barely containing his rage. Though their set Sunday night would find them in a more relaxed mood, it was still enough to drive the faint of heart from stage front.

But before Fugazi could lie waste to the room, it was The Ex’s chance to crack some tile. The Dutch quintet’s swirling, chain-driven approach to agit-prop rock was downright scary. Sounding at times like a funkier Sonic Youth fronting the Velvet Underground’s rhythm section, the band hurled out more freaky melodies and beats than a 50s Crypt-Rock revival night. With vocalist GW Sok swaying robotically at the mic, chanting his liberal socialist tirades, two guitarists and a bassist plodded and hopped about the stage like the zombies of Re-Animator, all along emitting skittering, distorted guitar lines that complimented pounding, incessant percussion. 4/4 time was meaningless to The Ex; instead, they became the musical equivalent of a Hydra, placing beats or squalls of distortion at points normally intended for rest. Part improvisation, part manic dedication to noise, and entirely engaging, The Ex definitely delighted the ghosts holding court in the Congress Theater’s arching red dome.

Don’t hate him because he hates the human voice. Hate Steve Albini because his guitars will always sound better than yours. Watching Albini and cohorts Todd Trainer (drums) and bassist Bob Weston assemble their gear, it became clear that Shellac’s set would be a study in jarring sound economics. Trainer’s simple 4-piece kit crouched between two stainless steel boxes that looked like an industrial design student’s attempt to build the perfect Martian amplifier. And after the obligatory Weston-led question-and-answer session, Shellac embarked on a sardonic, screed-filled sonic journey that probably shook loose more of the Congress’ ancient plaster than Fat Man and Littleboy combined. Whatever you think of Albini or his band’s uncompromising music, his impossibly treble-y skronk has to make you shake your head in admiration. (But I agree with PJ Harvey: He still mussed up Rid of Me…)

After Shellac’s remorse-less set, It was nice to see Ian Mackaye smile. As he and Fugazi took the stage, he was concerned more with how many fans had been at both night’s shows than delivering one of his infamous anti-moshing tirades. Joshing aside, it was time to rock, as the band launched into “Do You Like Me” from 1995’s Red Medicine. Because of their staunchly underground career path, Fugazi’s ability to straight up kick out the jams might be underestimated. But here were four musicians locking into a tight mix of upbeat hardcore that seemed ready to bust out of its cage at any moment. While Mackaye has lost none of the anger that filled his voice so long ago in Minor Threat, he has learned to use it as a foil to Picciotto’s more protean vocals. Mackaye’s rebel yell is still a one-trick pony. But in the arsenal of Fugazi, it’s a real howitzer.

While there were no shortage of anthems (“Promises;” “Lockdown”), the band took time to showcase their more atmospheric side, which has been evolving over their last few records (as well as on the soundtrack to Instrument, Jem Cohen’s film about Fugazi). At times the group almost sounded like Tortoise as they built and dismantled the instrumental interludes from Medicine and 1998’s End Hits. This is not a stretch. Fugazi has always been a groove-based band, even during their most angry or ear-splitting moments. And there’s a good chance Guy Picciotto would make a great R & B singer, with his pliant vocal chords and shimmying stage moves, suggesting Prince with no spine. Fugazi may indeed be moving in a more studied, less punishing direction with their forthcoming material. But the great thing about Sunday’s set was the band’s ability to move between experimentation (including giving the ever-silent Joe Lally the mic for a few numbers) and sheer, sonic power. And they didn’t even need Martian amplifiers to do it.

JTL

Rock and roll can change your life.