“Slow Death is about all our friends in Detroit in 1969.” THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES/THE SIGHTS/JIMMY OHIO & THE ULTIMATE LOVERS rock The Magic Stick in True Pub Fashion 11/8/13 by Jeff Howitt
I love it when bands roll through town before a proper record release. Lighting a candle before the big party. I saw Beck do it at Pine Knob in ’99 before his album “Midnite Vultures” and without context it really was exciting to hear something so confident and almost completely unknown. I saw Guns & Roses do it before the indulgent “Use Your Illusion” bombardment at the Toledo Speedway in the Summer of ’91 and I have to say it was the last time I enjoyed them - only Steven Adler had been edged out at that point. But I digress.
The Flamin’ Groovies are not quite the Bowie-tribe stylists as Beck turning himself over and over nor are they the bloated Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide of the of the latter band purely in name but they were a band of their time along with The Pretty Things, The Byrds and The Electric Prunes. Bands that had hits and draw but ultimately whose legacy has been brandished as much by the cult-collector as the musicians involved.
An exclusive sneak peak the new song “End of the World” on Rollingstone.com from a yet untitled six song EP due just inside 2014 finds the band in familiar run ways as they’ve taken off of before but with that pounding immediacy of performance that you just can’t “fake it until you make it” still wildly intact.
“Meanwhile back in the Jungle…”
The Sights are commanding the stage when we arrive. Front man Eddie Baranek pauses between the last couple songs to share some of his “Love of Rock ‘n’ Roll” stories. Just a genuine character to behold. The band with what seems like long time members, Jarrod Champion on keys and Kyle Schanta on bass, is finely tuned from a couple years and touring and just masterful. Throw in Liz Mackinder from the Brunswick Brawlers and Funk-Vocalist Chrissie Morgan as back up singers and it’s Detroit’s Best Rock ‘n’ Soul ensemble.
Photo - John Bissa
I ran down stairs for a break from the crowd and wasn’t gone long when we heard the barrage of guitars start up. Though the show was not quite sold out, getting past the log jam of Garden Bowl bands loading in and out bouncing into bowlers fetching beers, pushing past rockers being ID’d and holding pizza slices high over their heads while having random conversations and looking to lounge make for a slow mad break up the stairs to the Magic Stick. I actually love all that shit.
The band was just finishing the opener and Chris Wilson was introducing their cover of “Tallahassee Lassie” by Freddy Cannon. I point out that this is a cover only in the most noble sense. These guys came of age when everyone was played Rock ‘n’ Roll and it was a shared currency. I remember seeing the Pretty Things at Little Steven’s Underground Garage Festival on Randall’s Island in ’04 and they did a decent version of “Roadrunner” in the face of touching something from “S.F. Sorrow” or even another original in the set. The Flamin’ Groovies, a fistful of songs in tonight were already proving well above decent and sharing the wealth.
“Feel A Whole Lot Better” by The Byrds followed.
At least started then stopped. Started again then stopped again. Right as Gorie Dan Kroha lightheartedly shouted “One more time!” the third attempt found traction. I heard later that after the show founding member Cyril Jordan (who was all smiles this night) hipped Kroha and Rocket 455 guitarist Jeff Meier (who also played this night in Jimmy Ohio & The Ultimate Lovers) that he used an Echoplex on “Dog Meat” and they laughed they had been busting their wrists trying to figure out the song.
Original bassist George Alexander and newish drummer Victor Penalosa really work live well together but it is Wilson that engages the crowd the most with almost a pub like intimacy. “Sorry Rory couldn’t make it. He had a previous engagement.” Proudly prefacing “I Want You Bad” as “a song by NRBQ” as if he is sharing something really sweet. And he is. “I Can’t Hide” is the first of two originals off “Shake Some Action”. Wilson tells everyone to take a breather as they tune up which prompts the soundman to dim the lights and blink them at the band. In true pub fashion Wilson thundered into the mic that if he kept it up he’d “have to deal with me later.” Pure Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Before continuing Jordan took a page from Eddie and shared their own “Love of Rock ‘n’ Roll” story and recounted how they would sleep on the couches in the offices of CREEM magazine when they would roll through town in the 70’s then roared into “Please Please Girl”. Before “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” Jordan mentions that they had just played this one at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame for it’s Music Master series honoring The Rolling Stones. It’s rocking no doubt but with so many years of proficiency behind any instrument even a band that leans more towards the primitive can busy up something that seems so simple. At one point in the jam you see someone grab the mic stand and pull it towards the crowd.
Wilson grabs it back and says
“Don’t do that again.”
and the band kicks right into
“Paint It Black”
Suddenly Wilson is at the center of the stage while the band plays on. TJ from Pretty Ghouls braced Wilson from jumping into the crowd which in turn earned him as momentary target for Security which sorted out who had done what while the band momentarily left the stage. It all seemed resolved when everyone figured out the boy playing puck was punk Timmy Vulgar. “Was that the same guy that was fucking around at The Dictators?” someone said. “Don’t hit him!” someone else shouted as Vulgar decided to throw a punch at one of the Security guards. Even though it was very annoying to have the show halted by what is almost a shtick at this point when you start to add up all the shows this scenario plays out at, I do have to give him credit it did take a few decent sized dudes to simmer him on down.
Many bands don’t stay together in name or in friendship and the fact that founding members George Alexander and Cyril Jordan along with Chris Wilson who joined the Flamin’ Groovies in ‘71 are the core of this line up and still killing it just begs for respect. Rory couldn’t make it.
Meanwhile back in the States…
With the papers and the trash in order the band returned to the stage. “Sorry about the technical difficulties” Jordan said to rapturous applause and introduced “Slow Death” as about “All our friends in Detroit in 1969.” Wilson spat “This is for that Fuck!” Next up they played their new tune “End of the World” which sat very nicely next to “Shake Some Action” before the band waved us all a good night. Hearty applause brought the band out for a raucous finale of “Teenage Head” and again I have to say in “true pub fashion” that was some “Pure Rock ‘n’ Roll.”