Electric Six

[18 June 2003]

By Andy Rathbun

Funny thing: rock stars can perform stoned, high, coked up, or tripping and they’re fine. But after one bad piece of halibut, everything goes to hell.

At least that seemed to be the main problem when Electric Six took the stage at Chicago’s Double Door on June 6. Dressed like gas station attendants going to a business dinner, they rocked and sat through a set mixed with elements of garage-y punk and hook-heavy disco.

The group’s genre pallet certainly blends well. After all, rock and disco have some common ground in the parents-be-damned Bacchanal reveling. When it works, it’s rebellion through overindulgence, right down to the dopamine hooks. When it doesn’t, it’s Cher with a guitar. Either way, a reunion between the two sounds is never particularly surprising. What might warrant a double take, however, is that this mix got cooked up in the clubs of Detroit.

That’s where Electric Six call home. The sextet, easily construed as either legitimate buzz-makers or trendy garage buzzards, has a not-so-simple mission while on their current tour: Prove the Jack White-saturated single, “Danger! High Voltage”, is more than a one shot, make it clear that White’s backing vocals are not required for the Six’s success.

But back to that halibut.

Apparently, the band had gone out to taste some of Chicago’s plentiful, if not necessarily fine, cuisine earlier in the evening. Unfortunately landing a game piece of fish, Dick Valentine (who sings lead and has the best pseudonym in rock) suffered the consequence as all expected over-the-top antics were kept in check by his bellyful of bad fish. For the first half of the show, Valentine looked more like a man on trial than a man on stage, singing stiffly in front of the mic and addressing the crowd with a reticence contrary to the bands first song, which announced “you came to see a rock show.” While Valentine came alive on the fan-favorite “Gay Bar”, he generally seemed to be a man in pain.

Announcing an abrupt transition into the group’s dancier songs, however, Valentine flicked into the more synth-heavy, beat-steady bounce of what Electric Six will likely be known for, a gritty blend of rock and disco, both derivative of and distinct from the rest of the garage-rock scene. Suddenly, Valentine caught up with the rest of Electric Six (most notably the enthusiastic lead guitarist Rock and Roll Indian and animated drummer M.).

Sweating like an uncle, Valentine finally started to dance. When his moves were at their best, they were 8-track cool, endearing in their antiquated swagger. Between songs, Valentine grinned like a backwoods psychopath alongside rhythm guitarist Surge Joebot, tossing stiff waves to the crowd. During songs, he twirled like a broken pinwheel. Elements of the brash humor one would expect from a group that rhymes “gates of Hell” with “Taco Bell” (or, almost as amusingly, sings, “when I’m fucking you, it’s like nothing else matters”) were clearly bared as he stripped off his jacket during the opening licks of “Danger! High Voltage”, exposing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “UGLY AND POOR”.

In between verses, however, Valentine faded again, sitting on a riser with his head in his hands. Rightly assuming the song could sell itself to the crowd, he neglected to turn on the power when it would have been its most electric.

Damn that halibut.

Near the set’s end, Valentine omitted the typical “you guys are the most insane stop yet!” spiel, saying instead, “we’ve been all over the Midwest this week, and I just want you guys to know, this is easily the largest city.” Ultimately, it ended up being an all-too-appropriate aside. Not much else could be said for the audience other than its relatively large size; if this was the most excited crowd Electric Six had seen on tour, it was a sad day for Detroit.

After running through a few more tracks from their recently released LP Fire, most notably the tough beat of “Dance Commander” and the catchy ‘80s throwback “Synthesizer”, the group loped off stage, seemingly done for the night. The crowd called for more, though, and Valentine managed to pour himself into a brief encore. Closing with a cover of Queen’s “Radio Ga-Ga”, the group aptly capped off their set with a knowing wink to the ridiculousness of their current hit, “Danger! High Voltage”. While it remains to be seen how high and far that song will take Electric Six, possibly high enough even to overcome the poverty noted on Valentine’s shirt, one thing is clear: the night could have gone a little less ugly.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/electric-six-030603/