Sam Roberts, Sloan, and the Hard Lessons at the State Theater
Detroit, November 28, 2009
I should have seen it coming.
When a friend told me about the Sloan, Sam Roberts, & Hard Lessons show at the State Theater (I’m not down with the Fillmore re-branding) on Thanksgiving weekend, I was psyched. Putting the two best current Canadian rock artists together on one bill in Detroit? Fantastic call. It’s about time someone thought that up. We love Canada around these parts, eh?
So in picking up the tickets, I found out two things: one was that the best local rock radio station in Windsor/Detroit (actually based in Windsor), the River, was putting on the show, dubbing it the “River Icebreaker.” Nothing like a little nudge-wink humor to welcome in the bitter-cold season, yes? The second was that Sloan was opening for Sam Roberts. Curious, but no biggie… I guess Sam’s caught on in the D a bit more than Sloan, what with the topical Detroit song that we’ll get into later, and surely Sloan will get to play a full set, right? I double-checked and found that Sloan was indeed reportedly lined up to play a full set, and I was in like Flynn.
Writing a summary of Rothbury is kind of like explaining the Lord of the Rings trilogy to my 4-year-old daughter. I can give her a broad overview of some of the plot points and make some specific comments about some of the characters, but there’s just no way she’s going to understand without so much extra exposition that it’s pointless to even make the attempt. Not to mention that there’s just some stuff you’re not going to go into regardless.
That said, let’s delve into just a few details that should help set the Rothbury scene:
1. Rothbury is dirty in every way imaginable. (Not to mention literally; showers cost $10.)
2. Everyone is getting fucked up pretty much all the time.
3. I don’t know how you could have more fun at a concert — I never have.
To put that last point in perspective, consider that I am 36 years old and have been to well over 100 big-name touring act shows in the past 23 years since my first (Springsteen). I can’t even begin to estimate how many bar shows I’ve attended in that time. I have seen damn near every classic rock icon, plenty of indie rock, lots of metal shows, and even a handful of legendary jazz artists. So for Rothbury to compare this well to my better-with-age memories of Lollapalooza 2, Clash of the Titans, or some of the old-school Pine Knob shows when nobody cared what you brought in to the show, well, that’s saying something.
MP3: The Hard Lessons -- “See And Be Scene” from B&G Sides Volume 1 out now on Quack (but apparently unavailable online). This is really great Detroit pop complete with handclaps and boy-girl vocals. What more could you ask for?
“I believe a lot of people are scared to be frank for fear of how others will be honest in return. Too few a people in town are comfortable enough with how their own band is/was/will be to genuinely give others their honest opinion.”
GLONO alum Stacey K. Anderson files a report for the Metro Times on Detroit noise machine the Hard Lessons’ gig in the final days of CBGB.
Among the gems that illustrate why we loved Stacey from first glance:
“Detroit? Sorry, never been there. I imagine it’s a magical, overcast place where everyone grouses about the auto industry, apologizes for Michael Moore and tolerates Canadians for drug-related purposes.”
“CBGB may change locations, but it won’t go anywhere if promising bands like this keep appearing, inspired by the collective force of its past.
It may be a hard lesson to learn, but Detroit garage rock lived and died with the Stooges and the MC5. Today the world beyond Motor City limits can sustain only one Detroit rock revival band at a time. This group must possess something special – a heady blend of charisma, chops, chaos, skill, bravado, noise, hair, insanity, defiance, and genius – in addition to reverence for the spirit of the genre’s architects. (That band might currently be the Dirtbombs.)
The Hard Lessons are most definitely not that band. Their debut full-length, Gasoline, is fuel for the fire into which all wannabe retro Detroit rock-and-rollers should be flung. The awkwardly uneven record progresses from contrived (the infectious yet all-too-obvious opener “Feel Alright”) to sentimental (singer Ko Ko Louise is more than a little bit country in “That Other Girl” [mp3]) to plain irrelevant (“I take milk and sugar in my tea,” pronounces Agostino Visocchi in “Milk and Sugar” [mp3] – now that’s rock and roll).
Only a few of Gasoline‘s 11 songs approach success. Highlights “Share Your Vanity” and “Feedback Loop” draw from the raw, primitive energy that defines Detroit garage rock. If the Hard Lessons could throw ten more songs like these on a record, they just might get somewhere. But if not, forget about it – the rest of their stuff is simply no fun.