Concert Review: Sarah Shook & The Disarmers, August 25, Horseshoe Tavern

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It was Sarah Shook’s first time in Toronto, but it seems she’d already made some friends, pointing out someone in the crowd during Saturday night’s show who she had previously only known online but who had welcomed Shook to her home for a little apartment party before their show.

Apartment parties notwithstanding, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers brought the party to the stage as well for an excellent show at the Horseshoe Tavern. After all, there was something cathartic and rather fun in shouting, “I need this shit like I need another hole in my head” out loud during the band’s performance of “New Ways To Fail.” During their set, Shook and her talented bandmates (shout out to the bassist for wearing a WFMU t-shirt) ran through a number of songs from their latest album Years and last years’ Sidelong with numbers such as “Dwight Yoakam”, “Fuck Up” and “The Bottle Never Lets Me Down” standing out as particular highlights.

“Thank you. We love you too,” replied Shook at one point when a fan shouted out their approval in between songs. “It’s our favourite fucking thing,” she said, going on to describe her feelings on playing music with one simple word: “Heaven.” I’d wager those in attendance on Saturday night felt the same way.

Motor City Muscle Review: Molly Hatchet, August 19, Hart Plaza

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Much as it was throughout the entire weekend at Hart Plaza, the crowd for Floridian Southern rock crew Molly Hatchet’s Sunday night set was decidedly sparse, suggesting that perhaps the organizers of Detroit’s Motor City Muscle Festival had been, to borrow a phrase from Molly Hatchet, flirting with disaster. However, judging from the reaction of those who did show up, people seemed to be enjoying themselves in general, which is ultimately what counts. And though the festival was generally underattended and hindered by a few issues (the weather on Friday, delayed set times, Iceage’s cancellation, Ace Frehley’s BS video shoot), overall it was a fun time. Here’s hoping they can work out the kinks and make a few improvements and that there’s more to come with a second round for next year.

Though playing to a small crowd, Molly Hatchet took it in stride, with singer Phil McCormack taking a few good natured shots at their tiny audience. “How you doing?” he asked the crowd at one point. “Both of you responded! That’s 3 out of 5!” Overall, McCormack was an entertaining frontman – a little bit over the top and almost a bit of a caricature of a good ol’ boy rock ‘n’ roller but that’s exactly what you want from a Southern rock singer. Yes, he’s almost a walking stereotype, but there’s something oddly compelling about him onstage as he roams about the stage shouting out his catchphrase, “Hell yeah!”

“No, we’re not gonna go into the next song. I’m gonna go into how awesome this guy is.” he said at one point in reference to drummer Shawn Beamer, adding that “He kicks ass, no longer takes names.” Speaking of Beamer, sure he’s a good drummer, but the most memorable element of his performance on this night was playing while his hair got whipped around by a ridiculously overpowered wind machine. His hair was so windblown, it looked like he was touching one of those static electricity things at the Ontario Science Centre that makes your hair stand on end. Awesome.

Also awesome? The dude who I saw breakdancing during Molly Hatchet’s set. I’m sure that no one except those of us in his immediate vicinity even saw him, but I can safely say the combo of Southern rock and breakdancing was one of the best things I’ve seen in awhile.

Before they performed “Fall Of The Peacemakers,” the band brought a guest onstage who McCormack introduced as Reverend Rob, a former marine. “He’s not an ex-marine. He’s a former marine.” I’m not quite sure what the distinction is. Doesn’t it mean he’s no longer a marine either way? I assume he was trying to make the point that once a marine, you’re always a marine? Or maybe ex-marine has the same connotation as the ex-parrot in the old Monty Python Sketch? In that case, then yes, I agree – Reverend Rob is a former marine. The band followed that song up with McCormack reciting the actual Pledge of Allegiance while waving the flag in a not too subtle show of patriotism. And of course he ended the pledge with his own personal flair, adding the obligatory “Hell yeah” at the end. That addendum really should be officially added to the pledge. Give it a couple years and it probably will be …

At one point during Molly Hatchet’s set, I cut out to catch a bit of Detroit alt-rockers Sponge for a bit because I remembered them having one or two minor hits back in the ’90s and it was … not good. So I hauled ass back to that weird mainstage to catch Molly Hatchet playing the piano coda to Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla.” Did they play the whole song? Who knows? I certainly hope they did. They went on to play a couple more songs before ending things off the only way they could have – with their own personal Citizen Kane, “Flirtin’ with Disaster.” Hell yeah, Molly Hatchet. Hell yeah.

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.