Divadom was the order of the night at the Magic Stick in Detroit, Michigan last Friday. From the put-upon bartenders, to the heavily made-up party girls in their high-high heels, to the guys inexplicably clad in Miami Hurricanes gear yelling into their cell phones, everyone seemed to be convinced that this night was about them. The night definitely didn’t seem to be about the music, since only about 50 people near the front of the stage saw fit to end their inane conversations while any of the bands were playing.
The biggest diva of all was the headlining act, Billy Childish protégé Holly Golightly. Despite playing for a crowd of weekend revelers who apparently paid their ten bucks solely to see and be seen and get in a couple of games of Galaga at the back of the club, Golightly still didn’t deign to come onstage until after 12:30 a.m., and once she made her grand entrance she fussed about everything—the mix in the monitors, the potential for electrical shock from the microphone, the sock someone lent her to cover said microphone, the drink brought to her when she complained that hers was empty. And the lights, my god the lights. Nearly every song in the first 45 minutes of the set ended with a harangue from Golightly demanding that the aggravating flashing light show be stopped. Once the club staff finally determined that the lights were pre-programmed and that no one there could alter it (I guess the lights were divas too), the lights were actually turned off completely and Golightly and her band played the rest of the set in the dark. I tend to be hard to surprise—sometimes I feel like there’s virtually nothing I haven’t seen before in my years of show going—but listening to a band play in complete darkness was definitely a first.
Darkness aside, did Holly Golightly have the stuff to back up this prima donna act? Hell yeah. Holly Golightly ain’t called the “grande dame” of modern garage for nothing, and she didn’t disappoint on that score. Like Childish (who has put out dozens of albums with almost as many projects in less than twenty-five years), Golightly is insanely prolific, and she had a lot of material to draw on in this show. While they didn’t always seem to be on exactly the same page, she and her band ran through a strong set of tunes, eschewing the high-energy rockers from her Thee Headcoatees years for world-weary blues-tinged songs like “Wherever You Were” and “Your Love is Mine” from her solo career. Golightly’s flat, slightly mocking voice suits her tales of relationships gone sour perfectly, and she is a masterful live performer, stylistically resembling a chanteuse like Billie Holliday more than a rocker like Kathleen Hanna. In a more intimate setting, with an audience who were actually paying attention, the effect would likely have been spellbinding.
Unfortunately, the horrible ambiance cancelled out a lot of the enjoyment of hearing Golightly’s brilliance live on this night—I really can’t recall another time in recent memory when I’ve been annoyed enough by the atmosphere of a show to actually give up on a performance I was enjoying and leave early, as I did in this case. I guess since Brit (and part-time U.S. West Coaster) Golightly only hits the Midwest once in a blue moon, the few of us in the audience actually there to see her should have been content with whatever crumbs we got, but it wasn’t enough for me. Until Detroit’s divas learn how to appreciate good garage rock, for now I’ll just settle with filling my 5-CD changer with Holly Golightly albums and listening to them in the diva-free zone of my living room. At least there I can keep the lights on.