Soledad Brothers

by Alex Romanelli

28 August 2002


Given the garage rock explosion that’s happened over the last 12 months, it seems almost passé to see a band like the Soledad Brothers. Wasn’t the Detroit scene last year’s thing? Well, if you think that scene wasn’t capable of producing anything more memorable than some cool Lego videos and marital-incest scandals then you obviously didn’t get into it early enough, before it become over-hyped, and you clearly haven’t heard the Soledad Brothers.

Soledad Brothers

13 Aug 2002: Great American Music Hall — San Francisco

The Soledad Brothers are probably the band to have been the most unfairly sidelined in the mainstream’s hype over Detroit. No gimmicks, no cute female member to get male fanboys salivating, and no cute boyish looks to tease girly fans. The Soledad Brothers are probably the most authentic blues act to come out of the whole scene. They obviously don’t give a fuck about fads and scenes; they just care about playing true rock’n'roll, saving our souls while theirs head straight to hell. These boys are the real deal.

Comparisons with the White Stripes are inevitable. But the Soledad Brothers are full of restrained passion and controlled bursts of glory, eschewing the uncontrollable fury and volatility of the White Stripes. The Soledad Brothers are very deliberate, tight, well-rehearsed; it is readily apparent they work hard to sound this good. Casual off-the-cuff killer gems designed to impress belie a real quality musicianship behind their performance. This work ethic fills their songs with a solid integrity and credibility.

The Soledad Brothers know the sources of their influences well. This is rock’n'roll as passed down from generation to generation, from the muddy banks of the Mississippi to the inner cities, solid tunes becoming a soundtrack to the harsh urban landscape. To this end, the Soledad Brothers are more closely following in the footsteps of the Yardbirds and Rolling Stones than Howlin’ Wolf: classic bands heavily influenced by the blues, but grafting it onto a rebellious rock’n'roll structure and arrangement.

Ever wonder how Keith Richards has survived after a life doing so many drugs? He must have sold his soul to the devil, and clearly the Soledad Brothers are channeling Keef and Robert Johnson’s souls in equal measure. “Teenage Heart Attack” even cops a classic Stones riff, but it matters not. Keef in turn copped it from an older blues artist. In contrast to the post-everything 21st century, the music of the Soledad Brothers isn’t so much about innovation and originality. It’s about musicianship, craftsmanship and playing with soul, sincerity. These are factors easily forgotten about in the quest to impress or do something brand new just for the sake of being original, regardless of quality and purpose. It’s old skool Detroit rock all the way, there’s no teenybop sheen to these guys. The Vines and the Strokes this trio is not. The band has an element of danger, a certain sleazy edge. These are the boys you want on your side when someone pulls a knife on you in a dark alley at 4am.

The band are also true to their Detroit roots, grafting their love of ‘60s R&B onto a punk howl reminiscent of the MC5. For most of their tight, raucous, 45-minute set, the band is on fire. When they do slow it down mid-set, they do so building a song around low crooning vocals, accompanied by a slow deep bass drum and a dirty, filthy guitar riff. The brothers are going straight for the pantyline; and they succeed in seducing. Just when you’re sucked in and ready to lie naked for them, BOOM, the band deliver the kiss off, guitars exploding in a shower of vintage sparks. The Soledad Brothers. It’s all they need to win over the crowd and prove themselves. And you know they’re going to keep at it, driving from town to town, preaching their gospel night after night, using just a couple of guitars, drums and the occasional sax.

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