EVERY SO OFTEN, I end up at a show where I am completely oblivious as to who’s playing. It’s a liberating experience to go see a band without a single preconceived notion of what I’m about to hear. This past Friday, Rinjo brought me to see The Gories, a Detroit-based late 80s garage rock band that has recently reunited much to the delight of a middle-aged throng sporting faded tattoos. Weaving blues riffs and basement psychedelics through a wash of feedback and reverb, The Gories bury their vocals to near indistinguishable levels, giving a glimpse of what British rock from the 60s would have sounded like if The Kinks and The Rolling Stones had better equipment and then turned their dials past their breaking point. In The Gories’ hands, which play at deafeningly loud volumes, even the basic blues of John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley sound demonically foreign. The Smith Westerns and Best Coast have drifted into the same territory once mined by the veteran trio. They may not have a fetish for the blues like Mick Collins and Dan Kroha but by submerging three chord pop songs into an aural miasma of distortion, they prove that everything old can be new again.
BLUES LEGEND BUDDY GUY greeted the crowd at Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ return to Madison Square Garden with a sterling hour long set. Remarkably spry for 74 years old, Guy separates himself from his senior-citizen brethren by putting on an actual show instead of placing himself on a pedestal and soaking up adulation (and a nice paycheck) while offering sporadic music interludes. As is Guy’s custom, he finished his set with a medley of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” Cream’s “Strange Brew” and Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Chile” that shows off his own influence in the music we’ve treasured for years. As if to show how it all flowed from him, rather than play those songs straight, Guy flips the guitar above his head, plays it with his teeth and generally shows that what we love from others, he considers child’s play.
NO LONGER WITH A MAJOR LABEL, Big Head Todd & The Monsters have recently self-released Rocksteady, their 9th studio album. Since emerging from the Colorado mountains more than two decades ago, Todd Park Mohr & The Monsters have shone the brightest when they move their sound to the fringes, either stripping it down to create the warmth and intimacy that enamored many on Midnight Radio or diving full bore into arena-rock guitar riffs that suffuse “Broken Hearted Saviour.” Unfortunately, much of Rocksteady plays it safe and rides the carpool lane, never veering for long into the areas that cause longtime BHT fans to salivate. There’s a strong cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” that quickens the pulse but for the most part Big Head Todd’s latest never emerges from the realm of tepid guitar rock. It’s irksome because they are capable of much more compelling rock and roll than this.
SPEAKING OF COMPELLING ROCK, The Black Keys recently came to Central Park’s SummerStage for a pair of shows and a midnight gig at Terminal 5. Evolving beyond The White Stripes formula of guitars and drums, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney added keyboards and bass for half the set, transforming their basement growl into a more finessed purr. The material from Brothers, their latest, shows off a breadth of tastes without straying too far from the rawness that suits them well. Even if they need to add a couple extra musicians, it translates well on stage, especially in the humidity of a New York summer. Oddly, the offbeat Akronites have struck a mild mainstream success with “I’ll Be Your Man,” which now accompanies Thomas Jane’s casual strut through Detroit at the beginning of Hung. They included in their set list but it seemed to lose a bit of its luster, like a tamed wild animal. The Keys are expanding into different areas but there’s enough of Auerbach’s raw guitar and Carney’s feral drumming to soothe the savage beast.
I’VE BEEN REVISITING MGMT’s sophomore effort, Congratulations, trying to listen to it with fresh ears. Even with many weeks having elapsed since the hue and cry that followed the release of their very un-oraculary spectacular follow-up, it still sounds like the death rattle of the most befuddling attempt at career suicide since Cat Stevens proclaimed himself Yusuf Islam. Leaping backwards into the era of sparkly psychedelic pop, MGMT dredges up an era of music for which no one seemed to feel the strong tug of nostalgia. MGMT might have been better served if they released Congratulations under a different name, kind of like when Donny Osmond withheld his name from “Soldier Of Love” so that people would actually listen to the songs instead of wondering where the hooks went. At the very least, people wouldn’t be prejudiced by what they want the album to sound like and give zany fluffery like “Brian Eno” a fair chance. In the end though, MGMT tries to go a prog-rock route without fully committing to the necessary conceit of dedicating the entire album to the cause. Moving from three minute off-kilter tracks like “It’s Working” and “Flash Delirium” to the circuitous jumble of “Siberian Breaks, ” Congratulations isn’t worthy of the plaudits inherent in its name. On an optimistic note, when they get around to cutting their third album, all of the crushing expectations will have vanished.
GREIL MARCUS, who has penned some of the most literate and thoughtful meditations on history and relevance of rock and roll has turned his critical eye towards Van Morrison. In his latest, When That Rough God Goes Riding, Marcus predictably praises his 1968 epic Astral Weeks but bravely calls Morrison on the carpet for numerous substandard releases that fail to align with the irascible Irishman’s reputation as an unparalleled genius.