Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Yaki Taki Ooh-Wah" or... "You say hotdog, I say whisky!"

My friend Jenni's had a bad week. So I talked her into seeing some music on Wednesday to take her mind off of things. The original plan was to see the Decemberists at the Crystal Ballroom, but upon perusing the Willamette Week music listings, I found that the Detroit Cobras were playing Sabala's, and being a big Cobras fan, insisted that we see them instead. And as it turned out, the Decemberists' show was sold out so this worked out just fine.

I'd never been to Sabala's, so I really had no idea of just how nasty a place this is. Now I do. We got ourselves a couple beers, and after making our way across the sticky floor to one of the booths along the back wall, I immediately had to head back to the bar to steal a bar towel to clean off our table. Considering the pathogens that must live in those bar towels, this may not have been a good idea, but at the very least we managed to rid our table of crusty ketchup residue. Sabala's is so disgusting that you barely notice the holes punched in the bathroom walls because you're distracted by the fleas hopping around on the toilets. You think I'm kidding. I'm not. In short, it's my kind of place!

The first band to go on was Portland's own Divining Rods, who play a sort of updated 60's style psychedelic garage rock. Their singer isn't winning any awards, but on the whole I'd say they pulled it off well enough.

Taylor Hollingsworth and the Spider Eaters, of Vegas, Alabama (that's right, Vegas, Alabama) were next. They were actually pretty good. Punkabilly is probably the word I would use to describe their sound. Well crafted, well directed songs played tight and precise. Taylor's a competent singer, and his guitar work is impressive, if a little derivative (somewhere between Johnny Ramone and Brian Setzer). And he has a good rhythm section backing things up.

The next band, if they can even be called a band, were terrible. There's really no word in the English language that can convey just how bad they were. I asked Jenni to try and come up with one, and all she could manage was "crap." But the problem with that word is that is doesn't have enough syllables to convey the message. If you could somehow combine the words heinous, horrendous and horrific into one big long unpronounceable diatribe, that might begin to do the trick. Basically, this was two singer/guitarists cruelly misusing a drum machine (or perhaps I should say a drum machine cruelly misusing two singer/guitarists), who for all of their effort could come up with nothing better than a horrible screeching noise reminiscent of the sound the fan belt in your car makes when it's about to give way and shred the electrical system. A couple songs into all of this one of them, bafflingly, changed into a dress and a purple wig. He presumably remained in the dress and wig, but I can't say for sure, as Jenni and I sat out the rest of their set in the hallway. It's pretty rare that I walk out on a band, but these guys were that bad. I don't know if they were going for irony or what, but I could find nothing to redeem what they were doing. They were an absolute waste of everybody's time. I didn't catch their name, but I wish I had so I could warn you all off of them. On the upside, Jenni and I managed to have a decent conversation out there in the hallway as we were waiting for the Cobras to go on.

And once they did finally take the stage, the Detroit Cobras were, of course, amazing! For those of you not familiar with the Cobras, their basic M.O. is this: take obscure R&B songs from the 50's and 60's, Otis Redding B-sides and the like, and give them a punked-up garage rock treatment. Frontwoman Rachel Nagy (who, as band lore has it, worked in the past as both a butcher and a stripper) is a boozy punk-burlesque torch singer who shows off her cleavage almost as well as she shows off her vocal chords, and the other "leader" of the band, Mary Ramirez, is a capable and engaging rhythm guitarist who I could easily see filling the Malcolm Young role in Helle's Belles. Most eyes were trained on Rachel for the way she's built, but my eyes were trained, for much of the show anyway, on Mary for the way she plays.

Jenni managed to stick it out for five or six songs of the Cobras' set, and I have to give her an enormous amount of credit for this, as she had to be at work early the next morning. As you're reading this, she is undoubtedly suffering in the office. You are a trooper, Jenni! Thanks for coming out and supporting the Cobras!


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