To call this a noisy night would be a massive understatement. Although the distortion and static did not hit the levels of an A Place to Bury Strangers’ live show, which is every bit as loud as you have heard, I am still glad I grabbed my earplugs before leaving the apartment. Without them I was guaranteed a headache, the trademark ringing ears, and a terrible night’s sleep. But precautionary tales aside, those of us who showed up early for The Dirtbombs’ performance (they were supporting TV on the Radio) were given more than just a fantastic live show. We all took a minor mental vacation to the grittiest sector of Detroit as the quintet rocked through track after track during their 45-minute set.
Drummers—yes, the band has two—Pat Pantano and Ben Blackwell crept on stage first. Each took to his respective set, promptly banging out the almost tribal introduction to “Leopardman at C&A” off this year’s We Have You Surrounded. After a minute or so, bassist Zachary Weedon and baritone guitarist Ko Melina came out. Then frontman Mick Collins appeared, looking like he just crept out of a garage somewhere. Wearing a green T-shirt, sunglasses, and jeans, he smirked once or twice while hammering out the song’s opening riff. The group then ripped right into “Start the Party”, also known as the killer first track off Dangerous Magical Noise. As stellar as these two first songs were, they were also telling of how the rest of the set would be. Collins, who is a fantastic singer, was drowned out by the fuzzy guitars and banging drums. Even though the music spoke for itself, it was a shame that his vocals were nearly inaudible. The venue is partially to blame, since the bass is always turned up way too loud. I also blame myself, because had I moved away from the stage, I am sure the sound would have improved.
But the band was able to persevere through sound issues that were secondary to a less than enthusiastic crowd. Most of the late-teens to twentysomethings were definitely there for the headliner, with only a handful of guys and gals dancing or nodding along. Collins and his cohorts did not let this hold them back, though, as they followed “Start the Party” with an amazing take on “Get It While You Can”, which itself was followed by the Sly & the Family Stone cover “Underdog”. The latter song allowed Collins to play off his fellow axe-holders, too, as Melina and Weedon shared vocal duties. They continued the cover-express with “Ode to a Black Man”, originally by Phil Lynott, and progressed into the playful and absurdly catchy “Motor City Baby”. The next three tracks let them switch gears a bit as they careened through the gritty-as-dirt “Wreck My Flow”, “My Love for You”, and “The Sharpest Claws”. All these cuts were album-perfect, chock full of distortion, and the aural equivalent of a trip to the dentist… if the dentist drilled your ears.
The band continued to detonate their sonic explosions, ripping into “Ever Lovin’ Man” with Collins’ bluesy, gruff crooning surprisingly clear for once. The assault grew during “Chains of Love”, which found the frontman completely drenched in sweat. This came as no surprise, though, as The Dirtbombs wasted no time between tracks. Every so often Collins, Melina, or Weedon would thank the crowd, but the interaction was kept to a minimum. And had the audience been livelier, it would have made for a different experience. But, as mentioned, the quintet was more concerned with kickin’ our collective ass with their soul-blues-garage combination. And they did just that with the phenomenal “I Hear the Sirens” and the absolutely insane “Candy Ass”.
Perhaps acting as the calm before the storm, “Earthquake Heart” was played next. It’s easily one of The Dirtbombs’ more fun-loving tracks, particularly compared to their recent efforts, and it set us up for one hell of a conclusion. They closed their set with “I Can’t Stop Thinking About It”, and it could not have been more fitting. For one, the song title was as accurate as could be, since after watching Collins beat his guitar into submission, I could not get the performance out of my head. He continued to wail away as the drummers exchanged sets and Weedon scraped his guitar against his amp for a messy collage of sounds.
Although their time onstage was brief, The Dirtbombs were able to steal, at the very least, a small piece of the show. It would be a lie to say TV on the Radio didn’t impress, but these Motor City rockers held their own. And even at the end of their performance, Pantano made it clear he was not ready to call it quits. As the band members walked back out to bring their respective instruments backstage, he remained on his kit, pounding away a simple, but effective beat. He kept going like the drummer version of the Energizer bunny, which stood as a testament to his band’s attitude: Rather than try to dazzle us with a bunch of silly antics or banter between songs, The Dirtbombs put on a garage rock clinic that has made them one of the best live acts of the past 10 years.
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