A city’s music scene is a funny thing: Like-minded individuals kickin’ out the jams for the sake of love, laughter and the Almighty Good Time, but it’s something that can quickly mutate into a fractured, splintered shadow of what it was, torn apart by petty band jealousies, incestuous musician hopping and the odd romantic flare-up. The common misconception is that once The Man pops into town with bags of loot in his Lexus, the seeds of discord are sown. Nah. To paraphrase Mercury Rev, scenes, like bands, rarely turn out “right”—they ebb and flow, whither and grow independent of any nefarious outside influences. Tell ‘em that it’s human nature.
Witness the current panic in Detroit. Jack White was once everybody’s friend, talking up his pals’ bands in the NME, producing records left and right, and beaming at the back bar at numerous CD release shows; now he’s making CNN for putting the boot to his former cronies—namely, Jason Stollsteimer of the Von Bondies. For those uninitiated in Detroit lore, the Von Bondies and the White Stripes were once joined at the hip(ster), with White producing the VB’s debut Lack Of Communication, talking them up in tons of interviews, even dating their comely guitarist Marcie Bolen.
Somewhere along the way it all went wrong, with Stollsteimer stating publicly how unhappy he was with the sound of Communication, White countering with his assertion that the VBs were the “sore thumb” in the previously close-knit Detroit scene, and the whole war of words escalating into a well-documented punch up at the Magic Stick club on December 13th. At a record release show, no less. And now, the Brit mags fanning the flames of this garage rock revolution are speculating about its demise, and people who were once in it for good times are now choosing sides.
Somewhere in the midst of the hoopla, bands are releasing albums. And the good news for those of us who couldn’t give a toss over musicians’ mug shots is that most of these discs are pretty damn good, including the major label debut from the Von Bondies. Pawn Shoppe Heart loudly and proudly buries the snide snipes of naysayers under a walloping mound of chunky garage-rock. From the thick guitar drone that ushers in the album’s opening statement of intent, “No Regrets,” the band thrashes it out as if their 20-something lives depended on it.
Driven by Stollsteimer’s slash-and-burn guitar and drummer Don Blum’s Keith Moon-esque fury (elements which producer Jerry Harrison wisely kept at the foreground of the mix), tunes such as first single “C’mon C’mon,” “Broken Man” and “Tell Me What You See” seethe, wriggle and shake with all the passion of an illicit tryst; Stollsteimer’s deep-throated yelp engages in perpetual call-and-response with the honey-smeared sneering vocals of Bolen and bassist Carrie Smith. Judging by tracks such as “Been Swank” (a tribute, perhaps in name only, to Ben Swank of The Soledad Brothers) and the reverb-soaked blooze of “Mairead” (supposedly penned for a member of the Queens of Noize—scene-studiers, take notes) the VBs are all about the nasty, sexy, sweaty explosion that fuels the greatest rock n’ roll.
Moral of the story: scenes may come and scenes may go, but the best rock n’ roll needs no permanent address. Pawn Shoppe Heart is—at the risk of getting all Greil Marcus on y’all—the pure and simple sound of the young and sexy that’s been part of the collective consciousness since the ‘50s, claiming new victims daily. And despite what the wags n’ rags may say, it ain’t goin’ nowhere anytime soon. Can I get a witness?