Motor City Muscle Review: Impaler, The Gories, Ace Frehley, August 18, Hart Plaza & Campus Martius

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Though Motor City Muscle had mostly big touring acts as the headliners each night, the organizers made plenty of room for local legends and newer acts to take the stage with the weekend seeing some solid performances from the likes of The Detroit Cobras, Death, John Sinclair and The Craig Brown Band. And one of the more unique performances from a local act came in the form of the man they call Impaler.

First, a bit of background on the Impaler. Impaler is Anison Roberts, a now-50something who took to dressing like a vampire in order to stand out in the Detroit punk scene back in the day (you can read more in Metro Times’ 2014 story on Roberts. He’s a little too old to pull that look off day to day anymore – the vibe is more Count Floyd than it is Twilight – but still busts it out for the occasional show, which he did in an afternoon slot on the “underground” stage – a little theatre space tucked away under the area opposite the mainstage at Hart Plaza. And it was certainly a unique show. Backed up by a guitarist and keyboardist and reading off notes in a folder he held so he wouldn’t forget any lyrics, it was an odd performance but fun in its own way and you’ve got to give props to any dude who wears a cape onstage. Bravo, Impaler.

Another local act that was a must-see for me was longtime Detroit garage rockers The Gories. Sure, an outdoor stage in the middle of the city during daylight hours with a mostly seated audience isn’t the ideal setting for a rock show, but The Gories put on a great show regardless at the Campus Martius stage, running through songs from throughout their career as well as few covers (their version of John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen” was a standout). They also caught this Canadian’s attention with a song they sent out to all the Canucks in attendance: “This is a song about Canadian water rights … the only one ever written.” They’re probably right on that count, although surely someone like Stan Rogers or Gordon Lightfoot or Propagandhi must have written a song on that topic too. This calls for further investigation on my part.

Closing out the mainstage back at Hart Plaza was Ace Frehley, who probably drew the biggest crowd of the weekend, but put on one of the more disappointing shows. Don’t get me wrong, the former KISS guitarist’s set still had it’s moments (“New York Groove”, a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald” and of course, “Detroit Rock City”) but he lost any good will he’d built up in my books when he told the crowd midway through that they were going to essentially pause the show so that they could film a video for his upcoming single “Rockin’ With The Boys.” This in itself wasn’t that bad since bands do live video shoots with fans all the time, but the fact that this wasn’t really presented as a video shoot going in and that they went on to play the song a second time right after that just kind of killed any momentum they had going.

Weak sauce, Ace Frehley.

Motor City Muscle Review: Belinda Carlisle, Bulletboys, August 17, Hart Plaza

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“This is my birthday today. This is an unforgettable evening. In more ways than one”

These were the words of Belinda Carlisle, onstage to kick off the evening’s festivities for the brand new Motor City Muscle festival, a celebration of classic muscle cars and classic rock (as well as punk, indie, garage, and rock in several of its other myriad forms) and while she was clearly ready to celebrate (Belinda Carlisle’s music being a solid soundtrack for a celebration) it’s obvious she was also commenting on the fact that her 6:30 set was being played to a slightly soggy and largely empty space at the main stage in Hart Plaza.

Yes, her set was pretty sparsely attended. You’d think a free show by a bona fide rock/pop icon would attract a decent crowd.. But no, Belinda Carlisle played to kind of no crowd at all. She still put on a great show regardless. I’ve been a big fan of The GoGo’s and was chuffed to hear “Vacation” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” but had almost forgotten how many hits she had from her solo work – all of those big shiny pop songs brought the memories back though. Songs like “Mad About You”, “Circle In The Sand”, and “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” still hold up today.  Also, I have to add that the birthday Ms. Carlisle was celebrating was her 60th. She does not seem 60.

Besides the sparse crowds, the first night of the festival was not without other problems, with the weather delaying and even halting some of the night’s performances. This was the case for LA glam metal survivors Bulletboys, who had their set stopped after about half a song by some lady who looked like she was gonna get up there and announce the winners of a 50/50 draw or something. Instead, she said they had to get off stage because of safety concerns over a possible lightning storm. This did not seem very “Smooth Up In Ya,” Motor City Muscle. Luckily, things got going again a bit later and though I kind of hate it when people say that a band “killed it,” Bulletboys pretty much killed it even though they also played to a smallish crowd on the even smaller Riverside stage. Really not too sure though about them slipping a bit of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” into set closer “Smooth Up In Ya.” It was a nice gesture to the recently departed Queen Of Soul in her hometown, but maybe we don’t really need a Bulletboys/Aretha mashup, guys. Still, Bulletboys delivered a set of straight up fun rock ‘n’ roll that ended up being one of the most memorable sets of the weekend.

Show Preview/Song Of The Day: Sarah Shook & The Disarmers, Good As Gold

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It really does come as something of a surprise that Sarah Shook didn’t grow up immersed in country music. Listening to the North Carolina based singer-songwriter’s sophomore album Years, you’d be forgiven for assuming that she grew up in honky-tonks and started mainlining country sounds from birth rather than coming to it later in life as she apparently did. Shook’s catchy, relatable songwriting embodies the spirit of country music so well and throws in a touch of punk rock for good measure too. I could go on about it, but who better than Sarah Shook herself to describe it? As she puts it:

This record is about finding a way. A way through exhaustion, depression, betrayal, hangover after hangover, upper after downer after upper, fight after never-ending fight. It’s about picking yourself up and dusting yourself off after years of being trampled and beaten down, jutting your chin out, head high, after they’ve done their worst, and saying, “Still here.”

This record is shouting “f**k you, I do want I want” from the rooftops to the mother******g cosmos.

Really, what more could you want from an album?

The album is full of gems such as “New Ways To Fail” (with its skateboarding-themed video that we wrote about here), “Parting Words” and album opener “Good As Gold” which features one of my favourite lyrics on the album (“No, it won’t be long ’til the wrong song comes on at the right time”).

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers will be playing a show at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern on Saturday, August 25. It should be a good one. If by chance you can’t make it or you need something to tide you over until the show, you can check out the lyric video for “Good As Gold” below:

Concert Review: Joan Of Arc, August 14, The Baby G

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Over the course of their 20+ year career, Joan Of Arc has never been a band that’s been afraid to follow its muse in whatever creative direction it takes them, even when, as frontman Tim Kinsella himself admitted in a Noisey piece wherein he ranked the band’s discography, the results might sometimes fall a bit flat. This willingness to experiment and take chances has been a defining element of the band’s sound over the years and that’s certainly just as true of their latest release, 1984.

Released on the heels of last year’s He’s Got the Whole This Land Is Your Land in His Hands, 1984 takes the band in a different direction with Melina Ausikaitis taking on the role of lead singer for each song. It’s an interesting album, and one that sounds unlike anything else they’ve ever done with Ausikaitis delivering autobiographical-sounding lyrics in a twangy voice that recalls old-timey folk and country over the band’s expansive soundscapes.

In concert, Ausikaitis only took the lead on a handful of songs, spending the rest of the time either singing alongside Kinsella or playing her “fake guitar,” but two of those songs, “Punk Kid” and “Tiny Baby,” were among the highlights of the night. The rest of their set was a typical Joan Of Arc show – the experimental, arty indie rock the band is known for with a healthy dose of electronic elements added in – but also, in typical fashion, not terribly typical at all. Which is to say it was a unique, entertaining show.