Detroit Cobras tonight at the Varsity Theater
The Dirtbombs, The Gossip... The garage-soul boom of a few years ago left an impact crater on the music scene, dividing critics in a bloody but vital debate: Do these Gen Y punks really think they're going to improve on Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder?
Of course, it's arguable if that's even the point. In an age of rampant appropriation, where your random band is far more likely to be repurposing old modes than inventing new ones, a band can skate by on having a good ear and the musical boldness to recreate.
The Detroit Cobras, however, belong in a different league. This isn't some gritty, lo-fi rendering of Motown Mono. This is tribute of a more whole heart. And that Rachel Nagy? Pipes. Pure, old fashioned, undeniable pipes.
Detroit Cobras covering "Cha Cha Twist."
We can't deny it-- we've always found something rather distasteful in the punk revisions of soul classics, as wrought by the Dirtbombs and the Gossip, a sentiment that owes much to our fervent belief that the music produced by the R and B singers and songwriters in the 1950s and early 60s was of far greater musical and intellectual value than almost anything to come before or after it. So, take our relative disappreciation of the revivalists with a good shake of salt. We can't help what we find presumptuous and gratuitous, and there always seemed something presumptuous and gratuitous about Mick Collins croaking out a tone deaf, limp version of "Livin' For the City."
But the Detroit Cobras approach old material with a scholarly, astute mind. They don't just chop and channel the old machinery into something leaner and more chic-- they recompose. They break and rebuild, they tinker and reinvent, and the spirit with which they recreate the legendary material is a much more loving, violent embrace.
To say nothing of the fathoms deep curation of material exhibited in each track on any of their stellar albums. These are not musicians content to get the cheap buck, the easy tune with the obvious cover. These are deeply researched songs, many of which are originally penned by artists so far buried under the soil of history that their names are often total unfamiliarities.
Their musicianship, their knack for performance, the obvious love of their craft make the Detroit Cobras the standout entrants in their genre. True, that's a bit like commending someone for being valdeictorian of summer school. But this is a great band, well worth the money and headaches it might cost you to see them pack the Varsity tonight.
18+. 8:00 P.M. $13.00. With Dexter Romweber Duo. Varsity Theater, 1308 4th Street SE, Minneapolis; 612.604.0222.