The Silent Years
Review and photos by Tony BonyataWhile there are currently two predominate annual music festival conferences held throughout the nation (SXSW in Austin, TX and New York City's CMJ Music Festival) Detroit just kicked off their inaugural Motor City Music Conference (MC2) last weekend, which saw tens of thousands of industry professionals, music lovers and artists ranging from rock, rap, soul and country flooding into the city's clubs, theaters and conventions.
Given that Detroit has one of the richest music histories in the country (spawning '50s R&B, '60s Motown soul, punk rock, techno and, more recently, the garage rock revival) it seems somewhat surprising that it's taken the city this long to capitalize on its rich musical wealth. But as this year's five-day event proved- with a bevy of music industry panels, keynote speakers, a large trade show and a staggering 450-plus bands performing at over 50 venues throughout the city - the wait was well worth it.
The turnout for the panels (which dealt from everything from music publishing and licensing to marketing music online and secrets of the booking industry) was extremely popular - with both curious music professionals and up-and-coming bands looking to learn a thing or two from industry professionals. One of the more fun panels, entitled "So You Want To Be A Rock Star: True Stories From The Trenches" featured musical legends and luminaries such as Dennis Thompson (drummer of the influential rock band MC5), singer Mitch Ryder ("Devil With A Blue Dress"), Ivan Krall (Patti Smith / Iggy Pop) and Jake Slichter (drummer of Semisonic and author of So You Wanna Be A Rock and Roll Star). During the hour-long panel these musicians swapped entertaining tales of life on the road, dealing with egotistical bandmembers, what influenced them to enter into the often-sordid business of music and other enlightening, horrendous and often humorous anecdotes of being in a rock band.
While impossible to catch even a fraction of all the live shows going on around town as part of MC2 I was able to make my way to a number of great shows from both local artists and out-of-towners alike. Austin's And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead ran through an engaging set of potent progressive-art-rock-noise featuring songs from their latest album Worlds Apart (such as the majestic wallop of "Will You Smile Again For Me," "The Best," "Caterwaul" and the rarely performed title track). They also tossed in more popular fare from their Source Tags & Codes effort ("It Was There That I Saw You" and "Days of Being Wild") and even the opening track from their 1998 self-titled debut ("Richter Scale Madness"). Despite the quintet's manic draw in other major cities (Trail of Dead were the darlings for both critics and audiences alike during the CMJ Music Fest in NYC last fall), not to mention their sonic assault (with Conrad Keely and Jason Reece swapping duties from vocals, guitars and drums) at their Majestic Theater showcase at MC2, the half-filled theater seemed surprisingly laid-back and almost ambivalent to the ensuing mayhem that transpired.
Chicago-based band The Ponys put on an entertaining show at the Magic Stick with their blend of snappy '60s pop mixed with '70s NYC hipster rock and even a little '80s post punk to keep up with the current trend in music. Led by the lanky Tom Verlaine-looking frontman Jered the band whisked through an admirable set of quirky, engaging pop.
Fellow Chicagoans SundayRunners ran through a spirited set of numbers from their recently released self-titled debut album on Machine Records at Fifth Avenue Downtown. From the upbeat pop of "Elected" and "Everlasting Sun" to the more introspective numbers "1993" and "Memories Left at Sea" (which was recently featured on the hit television show The OC) the band, led by vocalist / guitarist Randy Diderrich, offered Detroit a taste of the exciting new sounds coming out of Chicago.
Also on the same bill were Detroit's own The Silent Years and The Strange. The Silent Years performed numbers from their seven-track EP Stand Still Like The Hummingbird, mixing melodic rock with both the knob-twiddling genius of Radiohead and the onstage energy distilled from latter-day pop-punk bands. The Strange, a guitar-less trio consisting of bass, drums and keys, followed with an eclectic mélange of avant-garde jazz laced indie rock that left a few local hipsters with knowing grins, along with other regulars, who frequent this upscale sports bar, scratching their heads.
Todd Bowie, yet another artist on the Machine Records roster, along with drummer Doug Corella (The Verve Pipe) helped put the rock in Detroit Rock City with a short but sweet set at Horan's Country Club that featured songs from his debut album Lucky Space People such as "Eiffel," "Rise" and "Could Be," along with a new rocker entitled "59 Shoes" and a roof-raising version of Led Zeppelin's "What Is And What Should Never Be," which - with Bowie's incendiary guitar leads and arena rock histrionics - left many mouths agape in amazement. Techno-phenom Moby's Friday night performance at the grand State Theater was more than fitting, since his own music was heavily influenced by the early techno sounds started in this city over two decades ago. Moby, along with his guitar, cleanly shaved pate and three supporting musicians, performed both upbeat and atmospheric techno treats from his latest album Hotel, along with better known hits from his breakthrough effort Play, which, not so surprisingly, proved to be the crowd favorites of the evening.
If there was a single act to best represent not only Detroit but also this huge music conference, however, that honor would undoubtedly have to go to The Paybacks. These down-and-dirty Detroit rock 'n' rollers successfully blowtorched the festival's fuse on Thursday night at The Magic Stick. Led by the gruff, black snake moan of frontgal / guitarist Wendy Case and lit ablaze by Danny Methric's lethal guitar licks that slashed and ripped cleanly through bassist John Szymanski and drummer Mike Latulippe's foundation-loosening rhythms, the room was on fire with the same unbridled sense of danger, enthusiasm and raw power that this city was built on. Snarling through amphetamine-driven rockers from their Get Hip Records debut Knock Loud, such as "Just You Wait," "Blackout" and "Hollywood," as well as the poisoned pop of "Bright Side" and bombastic rockers "Me" and "Jumpy," from their latest full-length album Harder and Harder, this foursome could quite possibly be the hottest thing this city has seen since Jack and Meg White started pushing their stripped-down, bluesy, peppermint pop rock to the world.
With a great line-up of artists from around the nation, as well as a tradeshow and industry panels to rival the festival's two big brothers (SXSW and CMJ) Detroit's first annual Motor City Music Conference not only shed light on just how important this city actually is in regards to the history (and future) of modern music, but also offered the rest of the nation's up-and-comers in the business a place to be seen and heard.
The Silent Years
...Trail of Dead
Robin Horlock Band
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