D4 with the Forty-Fives at the Magic Stick, Detroit City
January 30, 2002
D4 mouthpiece and guitarist Jimmy Christmas is fond of saying that people come out to his band’s shows because they never know just what will happen. Which is odd, because pretty much everything that happened during last Thursday’s set at Detroit’s Magic Stick was exactly that. Except for maybe Christmas’ well-fed mug, sporting the first appearance of muttonchops on a rocker since Lemmy stalked the halls of his record company.
D4 is from Auckland, New Zealand, a city better known for clear-eyed pop from the likes of The Clean, David Kilgour, and The Lucksmiths. But Stroke me, Stroke me, everybody’s gotta get their Rock on in the wake of Julian and the boys’ success. And NZ is no different. Along with fellow grease-paper export The Datsuns, the rockers in D4 have quickly made a name for themselves with highish profile support gigs (Jon Spencer, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and well-timed showcases at both CMJ and SXSW. Forward the microfiche to February, 2003, and you’ll read that 6Twenty, D4’s debut, has been released by chortling behemoth Hollywood Records. Can you smell what the Rawk is cookin’?
Well shit, give them the benefit of the doubt, will ya? At least they’re touring with Atlanta hose-hounds the Forty-Fives, who neither have nor want a major-label deal. On Thursday night, the Forty-Fives had about 25 minutes to prove it all night to the half-hearted early crowd at The Magic Stick. Fifteen minutes later, anybody who wasn’t playing pool was standing stage front, gawking at ‘Fives organist Trey Tidwell. My pal Klein wondered whether the runlets of sweat flying from his contorted frame would hit the old Rhodes and electrocute the man. Tidwell’s convulsions – Elaine Benes on crack – made me think that was already happening. And 10 minutes of fiery soloing, songs about girls, songs about beer, and songs about girls drinking beer later, the Forty-Fives were spent. It’s hard to sign on the Man’s dotted line when the pen keeps slipping from your sweaty hand.
A break then, while D4’s guitar tech and sound man moved about the stage, no doubt setting the equipment to maximum levels of ‘Garage’ and ‘Rock.’ The space had filled up a bit by now; The Von Bondies were holding court at the back bar, perhaps discussing their own imminent major-label debut. Eventually, D4 strode onstage, Christmas’ muttonchops flanked by mate Dion’s boat-necked sailor shirt, like Jonathan Richman playing guitar in The Knack. And they began to rock. Here’s where things got, well, static. Songs like “Party,” “Get Loose,” and “Rock n’ Roll Motherfucker” were definitely rocking, and certainly loud. Nothing was missing – stage moves such as the old play-guitar-behind-neck move and the tried and true go-into-crowd-while-playing-guitar were present and accounted for. But why did Christmas move away from the mic to let Dion handle the triumphant scream? And why did Dion’s Townshend pinwheels seemed timed for the photographer’s snaps? Am I cynical, or did D4’s set seem a bit like an act? Yes, and yes.
D4’s music definitely goes well with a drink and a leather jacket. But Klein would later mention from inside his own beer bottle that he’d never buy 6Twenty, because it would likely sap the suds out of seeing live rock and roll. And that’s scary about D4’s Hollywood Records ride. Their cocksway bop was a pleasant enough punch in the face for a Thursday night, but they’re as much a moneymaker for Hollywood as any mid-90s Alternative Nation also-ran was for DGC, Sire, or Imago. The high-profile proliferation of rockin’ bar bands like D4 suggests that the money guys are once again divining in back alleys, searching for a new cash cow to put on the endcaps at Best Buy. But great rock and roll doesn’t really have a shelf life – sometimes, it’s best when it expires with the last note of the last song, which on Thursday was a jet-fueled cover of of “Johnny Rock And Roll Sinclair” from Detroit’s own dirty rock power trio, The Dogs. D4 might have the rock and roll hoochie coo Hollywood Records wants. But they’d be better dodging oil cans of Fosters in a dive bar somewhere in New Zealand.