The band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has a song called “Whatever Happened to My Rock‘n’Roll?” Over the past few years, I’ve found myself asking the same question.
What was once viewed as rebellious noise, created by blues, soul and countryinfluenced youth, has now slowly morphed into whiny, heartless ballads and a string of clichd tunes.
The golden days of rock radio, which aired Little Richard screaming the lyrics to the frantic classic “Good Golly Miss Molly,” is now replaced by sweaty meatheads who all seem to follow the same songwriting formula:
1.) Write a moderately heavy, badass song about a cheating ex-girlfriend.
2.) Write a follow-up ballad, begging for the ex to come back.
I’m fairly positive this radio-rock epidemic is aimed at two audiences: the former ‘80s metal heads, who are now older and may want something a bit milder, and teens who like whatever the radio throws at them.
These companies found a system that sells, so they are going to ride it out until there is nothing left. I imagine record executives discussing this in a roundtable meeting:
“So, the songs should have a hard edge, but let’s not get too heavy,” Executive A says.
“Yeah, but let’s stay focused on being macho and singing un-poetically about relationships so vulnerable people will be sucked in to our scheme, Muhahaha!” Executive B says with a sinister laugh.
This is not a “new era” of rock. These are simply pop bands with an agenda, which is why I suggest (if you haven’t already) turning off commercial rock radio and visiting record shops to search for 45s or going online and browsing blogs for obscure metal, rare psych comps, ‘50s folk, Japanese garage rock, or whatever. Just know there is more out there than what’s being crammed into your ears.
Thankfully, there’s a surplus of Lansing bands that ignore pop standards. Here are some local shows featuring bands that understand what true rock‘n‘roll is:
Picking up where the brilliant, ’60s psych-garage sounds of Lansing’s Dead Stream Corners left off is The People’s Temple, who play East Lansing’s Small Planet tonight. The band’s lyrics are influenced by poetic folk writers; the guitar sound is like a hurricane of reverb. Headlining the night is the raucous awesomeness of MK Ultra Culkin (Lansing), and Mike Got Spiked (Ireland) round out the bill. 16800 Chandler Road, East Lansing, $5-$8, 10 p.m., 18
Bermuda Mohawk Productions is Lansing’s busiest independent label. On Thursday, March 12, at Mac’s Bar, show goers can score advance copies of the label’s latest single; a split 7-inch record featuring Lansing’s favorite indie kids, The Cheap Girls. On the flipside are two tracks from Failures’ Union (Buffalo, N.Y.). Both bands will take the stage at Mac’s, playing tunes inspired by The Replacements, Lemonheads and an assortment of other ‘90s gems. Jason Alarm (Grand Ledge) and To Fear the Wolf open the show. 2700 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing, $5, 5 p.m., all ages
Every Friday the 13th, Smashing Blumkins, Lansing’s crustiest creeps, emerge from the hardcore punk underground, play a show, then delve back to their dwelling. This Friday is no different. Catch the band’s early show at Uncle Sam’s Record Emporium in Old Town for some fast, disturbing noise. Sharing the bill is the ska-punk hoodlums of Danger Society (Lansing) and the demon-metal darkness of Goat Loaf (Grand Ledge). 100 E. Grand River, Lansing, donations welcome, 6 p.m., all ages.
Rockabilly Mondays at Mac’s has become a showcase for local and touring rock’n’roll purists, March 16 the show will feature Reverend Deadeye’s No Man Gospel Band. Deadeye is a oneman band (he plays the drums with his feet while simultaneously playing the guitar and singing). He mixes ‘40-’50s gospel with bottleneck Delta blues. If you like Hasil Adkins, give Deadeye a shot. Opening the show is Lansing’s favorite psychobilly band, The Goddamn Gallows. 2700 Michigan, Lansing, $5, 9 p.m.