Published Nov 03, 2013Death comes to us all eventually. In the case of the Detroit power trio, victims of bad timing and/or unadventurous A&R in the mid-'70s, their political proto-punk was silenced for decades until a fortuitous Drag City anthology brought them back from the other side, earning praise from Mos Def and Jack White, who recognized the band's unrequited genius.
Vancouver's own Tough Age got things rolling with a sampling of their self-titled debut album on Mint Records. Jarrett K. Samson, a veteran of such local notables as Apollo Ghosts and Korean Gut, helms this scuz-pop project with maximum charisma. It felt like he was born in front of a crowd, with casual, humorous banter that found him making digs at Amanda Palmer's penchant for restarting songs live —something Samson didn't do despite blowing the strap off his guitar mid-song — and noting their record was due out a couple weeks later, but that no one there was going to buy it. He certainly had guitarist Penny Clark and bassist Lauren Smith cracking up, though the business suit t-shirt of drummer Chris Martell showed he had his own sense of humor. Altogether, their good nature and surf-punk sound was so wonderfully Vancouver, a perfect representative for the city.
Repping the hard-living, no-nonsense spirit of Detroit rock city, the power trio launched right into songs like "Views" and "Keep on Knockin'," songs written almost 40 years previously that only began to crack public consciousness in 2009. Between screens showing scenes from the 1922 horror film Nosferatu, brothers Bobby and Dannis Hackney locked down the rhythm section, and Bobbie Duncan masterfully filled the role of lead guitar left behind by the late David Hackney. The band showed more passion than most bands a third their age.
The boys maintained a breakneck pace throughout their hour long set. Bobby and Duncan came out wearing Asian-influenced, very Hendrix-ian marching band jackets, but they ended up shedding them about halfway through, partially because of the building heat in the crowded Rickshaw, and partially because the following performance of "You're a Prisoner" would be such a scorcher. The audience responded, roaring for "Politicians In My Eyes," a song written with Nixon and the Vietnam war in mind that unfortunately remains all too relevant today; they developed a lightly churning, pogoing mosh pit for "Freakin' Out."
While the story of their tragic obscurity and recent ascension is legendary, the guys proved their worth beyond the hype throughout this show. Dannis had a couple chances to solo on the drums, while Duncan and Bobby showcased surprisingly nimble fret work, all staying tight through so many tempo changes and hard stops. Bobby was a great frontman, with spirited vocals breaking from fire to falsetto at the drop of a hat. He gave a tasteful amount of strutting swagger and thoughtful banter, which included a shout-out to Vancouver rain and dedications to parents, his departed brother, and Lou Reed. Imagine being able to freeze MC5 just before Kick Out the Jams and you have Death, a band that succeeded against the odds and remains at the top of their game.