mardi, septembre 14, 2004

The Detroit Cobras

Live, ULU, London

By Simon Hardeman

14 September 2004

You're riding a Harley-Davidson down Route 66. You stop off in a dusty one-road town inhabited by little more than tumbleweed and inbred gas- station attendants, and wander into a near-empty bar to find a local band barrelling through a set of rock'n'roll covers of parentage as dubious as the gas-station staff. The musicians look as though they have just finished a day's work in the town's only store, and they are tight: rock'n'roll is all they have to keep the tumbleweed from their brains. The lead singer has been the sexiest woman in town for as long as anyone can remember. She stands on stage, looking as though she knows every sinful secret of everyone there. And she has a Voice.

The band are The Detroit Cobras, the quintessential bar band whose joyous, raucous, back-catalogue of buzz-saw bubblegum has seeped across the Atlantic via word of mouth, download and the inevitable Coca-Cola TV ad (so you know their blazing version of "Cha Cha Twist").

The lead singer Rachel Nagy swaggers on stage in simple shirt and slacks, cigarette in one hand, beer in the other. She looks like Debbie Harry's much naughtier sister, and has a voice that could warn shipping. Often it does the gravelly thing Lulu does in "Shout".

In the first half, she doesn't look like she's having fun. She doesn't smile and doesn't (literally) let her dyed-blond hair down. The Cobras belt through some lesser tracks (nothing seems longer than two-and-a-half minutes), while Nagy gets irritated with the crowd for not dancing: "Is this a warm-up?" she asks. "You dance, we'll give it back to you." It doesn't work like that.

It isn't until a few numbers in, when "Cha Cha Twist" ignites the audience and "Bad Girl" continues the conflagration, that things get properly good. The sound is a little muddy, and the lower registers of Nagy's voice are getting lost, but a brooding, sneering, slightly slower-than-on-the-record version of "Ya Ya Ya" is great fun. "You got to start something good to start something bad!" she confides.

As the momentum builds, the guitarist Steve Nawara throws little lead lines into his thrumming rhythm, while Mary Restropo restricts herself to bashing her six strings. Joe Mazzola's bass rarely walks - it hops heavily from beat to beat - and the drummer Kenny Tundrick powers away with figures suggestive of Meg White on steroids.

It's the good stuff now: "Secret Agent" is a stomper; there's "Baby", the title track of the forthcoming album and a bit like early Blondie; and the beautiful "Cry On". Then, with the blistering, anthemic "Shout Bama Lama", they leave the stage. The first encore is the first track from the forthcoming album, the riff-heavy "Slippin' Around", and then there's an old favourite, the bluesy "Let's Forget About the Past".

In a perfect world, every one-horse town would have a bar with a house band like The Detroit Cobras. In this imperfect one, we'll have to make do with Rachel Nagy and her no-nonsense noise-makers. Unless there are drinks to be served, of course.

©2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved