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The sticky and sweet fluid arches up and falls gracefully in foamy droplets, showering tousled hair and trickling down noses and arms, jeans and boots, onto the floor, wasted. How sad. Squandered Miller High Life is no fun for anyone, particularly this punk rock five-piece suitably dubbed Bang Bang.
Who’s going on a beer run? The question goes unanswered. It’s more like who’s able to pay? At least the hirsute musos in the Steely Dan cover band down the hall have stopped playing “Do It Again” over and over and over.
Bang Bang’s backs are against the wall, literally, and they’re spit-spraying each other and their immediate perimeter with the Champagne of Beers for the Metro Times lens. Not one hour ago, the band was sleepy-eyed and languid, kindly offering cigarettes and spliffs, and cracking the first beers of the night. Since, the chemicals and the rush of a spirited 25-minute practice set in a soiled, gray-hued rehearsal room imbued these guys with get-up-and-go, and now they resemble a proper rock ’n’ roll outfit.
To say this band is unprecedented would, of course, be out-and-out propaganda. This is, as the Clash once said, a punk rock band and proud of it. But before you grunt, “Oh, just more cliché, beer-and-weed-addled punk nonsense,” listen: Bang Bang’s bristly command and speedy shards of hooky distorted blasts can knock even the most disagreeable rock ’n’ roll barfly off his beloved stool.
They are an oily, Motor City mess of brazen riffs and rousing scream-alongs that sound angry, but are tempered with a fierce yen for fun. The rail-thin and bearded guitarists Nick Waters and Scott Stimac yank fresh tension from their guitars, infusing the three-chord clang with roaring, mellifluous single note guitar lines.
They’ve all played in bands before, sure (This Frequency Five, Left in Ruin, etc.), but none had Bang Bang’s one-in-a-million chemistry.
Even in rehearsal, flailing southpaw drummer Jimmy Lucido plays as if a gun is pointed straight at the back of his Tommy Stinson-coiffed head, as if he’s unloading some inner seed, sowing some need. Fly-away bats inked into his arm provide adequate visual metaphor as does his drum kit, which looks like enormous beer cans retooled in some back-alley chop-shop and hastily spray-painted black.
He, and the rest of Bang Bang play out of an obligation that translates; they’ve that look in their eyes that says reaction, destination and escape.
“We want the fury again,” Lucido says. “You saw that fury in Guns N’ Roses, Rocket from the Crypt and the Hot Snakes — you see those guys and they have the fury.
Without sliding into a hackneyed list of rock clichés, the first lesson is this: Rock ’n’ roll ought to be reactionary; if you’re pissed enough about injustices around you, you do something about it. And if you’re lucky, you might find like-minded pals to form a band; not to get paid but to get the shit out, which is what this band did. As teens (they’re in their 20s now) they all frequented many of the same underground punk shows.
And Bang Bang’s antipathy isn’t just with the crusty temperament of garage rock or the cutesy aspects of the downtown rock ’n’ roll scene. No, they share a loathing for everything from the Bush administration to crap emo and metal to corporate punk rock. They want nothing to do with the feckless dick-and-ass-joke song merchants that populate Warped bills (though they do make dick and ass jokes).
“I just want to show these kids [at local rock shows] how to throw down,” Lucido says, his shirtless chest revealing a necklace tat that reads “Hold My Life,” after the Replacements song. “Most of them don’t even listen to the music. And since the garage thing is over, somebody has to show them the other side of Detroit. I just want to kick all the kids in the balls.”
The other side of Detroit? The first band they name, and continue talking about throughout the night, is The Holy Fire, who Waters calls the “the best band in Detroit.”
The members of Bang Bang have a boy-eyed innocence and this inalienable enthusiasm to entertain; they have big, often droll ideas wrapped in short scorching blasts, and play them as if they just made up the whole punk rock DIY thing last week. They are beguilingly sincere, if not downright elated to be playing at all. And without assigning improbable significance to them, it’s obvious through conversation that they feel both redeemed and damned by the band, just like any good rock ’n’ roll band should. You might have it all but you’re still fucked for the long haul, unless you are extremely lucky. You sense this in the tumbledown live shows and in the songs. The experience is affirmation; you know that this is what life is all about for them, what it’s supposed to be.
Bang Bang coalesed a year and a half ago, and released a 7-inch and an album (last year’s It’s Choking Me), each loaded with lyrically purple fuck-yous aimed at self and government. Amazingly, the band replaced lead singer and lyricist Dave Graw (who’s drumming in Heads Will Roll) last fall after it was discovered that his future didn’t include crisscrossing the country in a fetid van doing punk shows. Having to replace the singer — the voice — in a rock ’n’ roll band, is, as Van Halen taught us, a band’s death knell. But Bang Bang scored with Josh Brown after one failed attempt with “a guy from Chicago.” (Remember, Black Flag had two singers before Henry Rollins.)
“Dave was a charismatic frontman, just over-the-top,” Stimac says. “I told him I wasn’t playing in this band to play in Detroit once a month. He understood.”
New shouter and longtime band pal Brown doesn’t fit frontman stereotypes (he’s a guitarist first); the part-time bartender looks more like the high school star quarterback who, instead of becoming a cop, chose punk rock. But live he’s cocksure and reckless, and his oddly melodious, weed-eater vocals fit the band like a Speedball tee.
Brown’s first-ever live show as a lead singer (sans guitar) was a nerve-shivering performance at Clutch Cargo’s in late December, supporting Suicide Machines in front of 1,000 people.
“He pulled it off,” Stimac says. “We weren’t even worried.”
Zach Burbridge is no template punk bassist either: He’s the product of a pastor pop and choir-singing mother, and he cut his teeth playing Christian rock in area churches, before “he drifted from the church.” He admits with a shrug to liking Skid Row as a kid. The Texas-born bassist has a bit of girth and height too; he’s the walking, talking definition of gentle giant.
“We’re all broke as fuck, and a lot of us are unhappy with where we are,” he says. “That’s what feeds the desire.” He pauses, thinks about his eat-shit money gig as a State Theatre barback and equipment loader at Ritual shows, and shakes his head. “I wouldn’t be working this job if I wasn’t in this band. I’d be a firefighter or something.”
“Any of us could be doing any number of things,” Stimac says. “I quit college, Jimmy quit college — I want to play music because you feel better about getting up in the morning, going to practice, having a show.”
Since the band’s inception, word-of-mouth has been huge in Detroit and surrounding areas. Their shows quickly picked up steam, the all-age ones teeming with impassioned moshing armies of jacking fists and sweaty kids. They’ve had calls and obligatory interest from major labels, to which Stimac’s pragmatic and bored response is, “A&R guys are vultures.” He sees little future with the majors. “Our songs are too abrasive; they don’t repeat the chorus 10 times.”
A common Bang Bang reference point is Guns N’ Roses, whom they adore (with the exception of Brown). The similarities are there: street rock ’n’ roll filtered through Gibsons and Fenders and vintage amps, but minus the Nazareth and Sunset Strip metal influences, and adding Black Flag, early Misfits, and pretty much whatever Rocket From the Crypt’s John Reis had anything to do with.
And the new songs? Like the ones heard tonight (“Neck Wash” and “Here Come the Unicorns”), they have a decidedly cheeky bent. “All the new song titles will be inside jokes, esoteric humor,” Stimac says. “We create our own little world and live in it.”
Friday at Knights of Columbus (9632 Conant Ave., Hamtramck; 313-871-8888).
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Brian Smith is the music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.