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Monday, December 15, 2014

Pure Detroit: Gasoline Gypsies, Royal Blackbirds & Longneck Stranglers @ The Magic Bag

Live, Local Music at the Magic Bag
     I sometimes joke about the "tens of viewers" this blog attracts.  I know it's actually a lot better than that (I'm well over 50,000 page views now), but it's still nice when someone "stumbles onto" something I wrote and likes it enough to reach out to me.  Such was the case when a friend of the Native Howl (reviewed here) somehow got my business card and invited me to see their band, the Gasoline Gypsies open up a 3-band ticket at the Magic Bag in my old home town of Ferndale.  A quick look at youtube told me this mostly electric band had some deep acoustic and "SeMiBluegrass" roots, so I immediately agreed.

In the Groove with the Gasoline Gypsies
     The job of opening band can be daunting at best.  Especially when the "headliner" is hosting their fans for a record release party--they want to see the main event an usually could care less about the opening bill.  When the Gasoline Gypsies hit the stage, the bar was already mostly full, noisy and buzzing with anticipation.  Instantly reading the room, they launched into a high-voltage opening number that grabbed the audience by the throat and delivered a musical sucker-punch right in their faces.  They had the crowds attention from the very first note. That song might have been a Jim Croce cover.  To be honest, I was so mesmerized by the band's performance that I forgot to write anything down.  I hardly remembered to take a few pictures!  Keeping the crowd's attention throughout the set was easy after that.  The band rolled out one hard-driving original tune after another before closing with a "Beatles meets Metalica" cover of Eleanore Rigby.  When all was said and done, the band certainly had the crowd's attention.

Malooley on Lead Guitar
    How to describe the Gypsies' sound?  They definitely encompass all that is great about the Detroit rock sound (even though they're from Port Huron).  Their original songs feature impressive lyrics with rock solid vocal hooks and vivid storytelling.  The band members take turns singing lead with everyone contributing to some well arranged harmonies.  Their melodies draw from the rock tradition, with strong nods and passing winks to funk, blues, soul, country and Americana.  Every song is built around a crushing bass/drum groove with pure, clean-tone guitar leads, and deliciously crunchy rhythm guitar work.  The bands' CD has been on near constant rotation in my car for the past three days (it's a damn good piece of work!) gives you the kind of songs that get stuck in your mind and make you want to sing along all day.  I even think I detected the sound of a banjo on a couple of tunes (and who doesn't love the banjo now days?).  The more I listen, the more I want to hear more of what this band has to say.  It's rare to find lyrics both interesting and intriguing now days, and these boys are spot on with their songwriting.

Makowski on the Kit
     Gypsy drummer Joe Makowski lays down one of the cleanest grooves you'll hear.  Readers of this blog know I love a drummer with a light, fast touch, and Joe is all of that.  He has also mastered the subtleties of dynamic range; playing lightly under sweet melodies and blowing up over the top of power-chord driven jams.  Unlike many drummers, Joe is intently focused on his band mates while he plays, allowing him to both keep them on time, and mold his drumming around what they are doing.  It's pure magic.   His rhythm section partner, Steve Briere lays down a funky groove that really gives life to their original songs.  His combination of complex walking lines with a pulsing melodic style lends a ton of drive to the band and helps set up a pocket that makes this one of the very tightest bands you'll here.

Schwei Getting It Done!
    Another of my very favorite things about a band is watching bands that like playing together.  It's like that scene in "The Rookie" where Jim Morris says "we get to play baseball today" with that stupid grin on his face.  We all love music.  And I love watching bands who love to play.  No where is this more evident than in the Gasoline Gypsies' guitar duo of Caleb Malooley (lead) and Robby Schwei (rhythm).  These two could not be more different, yet work together more perfectly.  Caleb played a surf-blue stratocaster with a light touch and crystal clear clean tones.  It was soaring and precise in all the right ways.  Schwei, on the other hand played the living daylights out of his Les Paul, with heavy strumming and deep, full, over-driven tube-amp tones.  His approach to rhythm playing gave the Gypsies' sound the same kind of in-your-face drive as a great banjo player in a bluegrass band.  On top of this is his infectious enthusiasm;  he literally throws himself around the stage giving "body English" to his playing and grooving with his band mates.  The GoPro rig on his chest is a nice touch as well.  I'd love to see the crowd from his point of view!  In case you can't tell, I love this band and can't wait to go see them again.

The Royal Blackbirds
    Up next was a power trio of young blues rockers, the Royal Blackbirds from East Detroit.  According to their Facebook page, the band averages 21 years old, but I don't believe it.  Sure, they look like teenagers, but they PLAY like veteran Detroit rockers, with all grit and grime to their sound that only comes from decades of playing dark, smoky clubs for free drinks and tips.  They are a lot of fun to watch and have a very unique sound.  Pretty much straight, modern rock, with a heavy dose of mid-eighties punk and a not-so-subtle homage to John Lee Hooker thrown in for good measure.
The Kid Can PLAY!
    Where the Gasoline Gypsies were polished and tight, the Blackbirds where raw and edgy.  They had the amps turned up to "eleven" and play their instruments with energy and vitality of youth.  Lead singer/guitarist Rebecca Saad is a remarkable talent.  While her choice of musical genre lends it self to the cliche' 3-chord, power-chord anthem, her lead playing is powerful, melodic and creative.  She doesn't sound like anyone else.  She sounds like her.  She broke out of a fairly "prog rock" vocal sound for a bluesy number (might have been called "Misery") and showed off a powerful, luscious, soul-driven voice that raised goosebumps on my arm and made my hair stand on end.  Drummer Jeanette Gadette puts her heart and soul into her playing, beating the drums until they scream for mercy, but keeping exceptional time and driving the band forward.  Not my cup of tea, but PERFECT for the bands' sound.  Bassist Dennis Burck is a real standout.  He may have been the best musician on stage that night, laying down complex and funky grooves as he sways and dances to the beat, usually with his eyes closed and satisfied grin on his face.  This kid can flat-out play!

A Little Bit Rock, A Whole Lot of Country!
    Country Rock band the Longneck Stanglers finished off the night.  Unfortunately, my tank was out of gas, so I only stayed for the first half-dozen songs of their set.  Make no mistake, this ain't your usual Detroit rock band.  Nor are they a pure Nashville country band.  Somehow, some way, they take the best from both of these scenes and blend them into a coherent, and crowd pleasing, show.   They hit the stage with a rock-star attitude.  From the clothes they wear, to their high-energy antics on stage, they are there to put on a show--and their fans love it.  Lead singer Ricky Lenz is just as comfortable belting out rock-infused power songs as he is crooning county-laced ballads while strumming his six-string.  He really surprised me by pulling out a harmonica and adding some killer blues harp work over a couple songs.  Rick Broworski helps drive the band onward, whipping the crowd into a frenzy both with his pulsing guitar licks, and hyperkinetic stage antics.  Likewise, bassist Kevin Davis is all over the stage keeping the band in high gear as they shift effortlessly from one song to the next.  Throw in wild-haired drummer Jeremy Kanouse and it's easy to see why this country band with a rock attitude inspires such devotion in their fans.

Assorted pictures below.  Feel free to tag and share with your friends.


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