The Dirty Things
Review by Tony Bonyata"Do you remember Hullabaloo, Upbeat, Shindig and Ed Sullivan too? Do you remember rock 'n' roll radio?"
Photos by Phil Bonyata
These were questions posed in song by the late, great Joey Ramone. But more than questions, it was really Ramone waxing about the raw energy, combustible power and intoxicating sway that rock & roll had on him as a youth.
I also remember those great radio and TV shows, and also recall the jolt I got the first time seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, or sitting in the 16th row as a teen witnessing Led Zeppelin lay ruin to Minneapolis' Met Center, or seeing The Ramones turn the thousands in attendance at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom into one giant throbbing, pogoing entity. I, like Ramone, remember it all too well.
Luckily enough that feeling has never left. Despite the occurrences being too few and far between these days, I still get that sense of excitement over a killer song or a great live performance and even, in some cases, just a certain look (it may have taken me decades to appreciate Elvis' music, but there was no denying the sense of danger in that sneer.)
Last Saturday I was hit again, and not by some big corporate rock act being hyped by Clear Channel or VH1, but rather by two hungry upstart bands - The Danger from Kenosha, WI and The Dirty Things from Chicago.
Held at the venerable Cactus Club in Milwaukee, this night was to celebrate the release of The Danger's brand new five-song e.p. entitled Sketches From A Small Room.
The Dirty Things took to the stage with their own refreshing brand of angular post-punk mixed with dance-floor chutzpah, which perfectly set the tone for a raucously fun evening.
Running through a blistering short set, the quartet tore through songs from their own five-song e.p. Movement Making Noises. With a sound that lends comparisons to Gang of Four, Wire and early Talking Heads, songs such as the jerky "Stop," the bouncy "Last Night On Earth," as well as their proclaimed signature song "New Dance," forced the tight roomful of people - even those cloistered in the shadows - into a spastic dance party filled with smiles, sweat and flailing limbs.
Driven by a succinct, no-nonsense rhythm section - courtesy of bassist Paddy Ryan and drummer J. Paul Lohr and fueled by the saw-toothed guitar of Johnny Mick along with the odd, yet enduring, guttural moans from vocalist and rhythm guitarist Michael Scahill, The Dirty Things provided a welcome sound that, unfortunately, wasn't around long enough, even when it was in vogue with late '70s hipsters.
When The Danger finally hit the stage the crowd of local Milwaukee and Kenosha fans flocked to the stage to become part the band's baptismal of granite rhythms, scorching leads, wrenching vocals and 'big rock' stage histrionics.
In somewhat of a departure from the punk sounds of The Stooges and New York Dolls from their 2003 debut Confession Sessions, the sounds mined for Sketches From a Small Room are decidedly more straight-ahead rock & roll - albeit with a powder-keg of attitude, power and, yes, even that sneer.
With lyrical content on songs, such as "Neon Crucifix," "The Pharaoh" and the bluesy "The Story of Jon Rhose," that mixed Christian symbolism with the hoodoo mysticism of the Deep South all played out as if it were the soundtrack of the coming Apocalypse, these were numbers that could've just as easily converted the likes of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds as they did for those in attendance.
Ripping through rock & roll scorchers such as "Transistor Resistor," "I Wanna Know Why!" and "Hula Dashboard Dancer" the band was ablaze. From frenzied guitar trade offs between Jimmy Black and Ricky Allen on "Neon Crucifix" to the seductive bass line laid down by Michael Stanley over drummer Jered Jonathan's powerful vertebrae snapping backbeat on "The Pharaoh" (quite arguably the band's strongest song) this was a group who not only fed off each other but the audience's enthusiasm as well.
But no one fed off the audience more than vocalist Thomas Culkin. The impassioned singer at times seemed possessed as he stomped, pogoed and threw his lanky body to the masses. But unlike a frontman like Iggy - who only joined his audience for face-to-face confrontations - Culkin was more intent to let his fans join the band, as he shoved his mic stand into the swarm eager to chime along with the ensuing mayhem.
"I've got records in a shoebox that saved my soul," Culkin screamed at one point with nothing but utter conviction. And while this scruffy band is certainly too young to remember early rock shows such as Hullabaloo and Shindig, they sure as hell know how to deliver that same punch to the gut that all great rock & roll bands have for the last fifty years.
The Dirty Things
The Dirty Things
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