with SCOTT MORGAN'S POWERTRANE
and special guest RON ASHETON
Blind Pig, Ann Arbor
November 10, 2001
WORDS: Geoff Ginsberg
PICTURES: Melissa LeFerge
"Lets go out and get real o mind, lets go out and have some fun tonight" D. Tek
And thats exactly what I did. It was about all you could have hoped for. On his 49th birthday, Deniz Tek brought an amazing array of talent together to celebrate at Ann Arbor's Legendary Blind Pig. A packed house witnessed a Michigan-style high wire rock and roll dream show. Performing a show that wouldn't have been much different had you written the set-list yourself; the band tore through material from Tek's Outside album, Radio Birdman, Sonic's Rendezvous Band, The Hydromatics, and The Stooges. It was tight, unrelenting, and inspired. Tek brought "The Guitar" with him, and like those chicks who had a fuzz-box, he knew how to use it. (Of course I'm referring to the Epiphone Crestwood that he got from Fred "Sonic" Smith in 1973 and is seen with on the cover of "Radios Appear").
Your humble (well, not really) reporter caught the rehearsal two days before the show and it was very promising. The band consisted of Tek (obviously) on guitar and vocals, Scott Morgan on Telecaster and vocals, Robert Gillespie - pictured right - (Mitch Ryder Band, Rob Tyners MC5) on Les Paul Junior, Chris "Box" Taylor (Mazinga) on the bass, and drummer Andrew Frost (Hydromatics). When I got there the band was setting up and Tek was showing some people "The Guitar." They were oo'ing and ahh'ing so naturally I just joined in. It is a beautiful instrument and Ive never heard another guitar that sounds like it. You know the sound Im referring to. You grew up to it.
Anyway, Gillespie (who has won the "Best Guitarist in Detroit" award so many times they've retired his number) was running late due to prior commitments so the guys got started without him. They were mostly rehearsing Deniz songs the whole band already knew Scotts stuff and man did it sound great. This was gonna be good! In a tiny room with all the amps and drums within 10 feet, and everything pointed at me, I just soaked it up. It was THE ROCK. It sounded so good I was thinking, "Whats Robert gonna do?" Well, when he got there my question was answered hes gonna put it over the top. At one point Frost asked if anyone had some duct tape. As it was being handed to him he said, "My finger's coming apart at the seam," (which it literally was). He then matter-of-factly wrapped the tape around his index finger and went back to bashing away. The full line-up jelled immediately and everyone was relaxed. None of the usual Detroit Rock passive/aggressive angst thing (thank God!). Everybody was on the same page.
At the soundcheck before the show Asheton, Gillespie, Frost and Taylor got on the stage, and Ron unleashed one of his patented riffs. The band soon hit stride behind him and Ron went off soloing wildly for about 10 minutes. It was unreal to hear the pure stuff just flowing like that. Asheton and Gillespie soloed back and forth, and I was almost ready to go home happy then!
The gig itself was the total guns. The Blind Pig rarely has good shows anymore (in the 80's bands like the Celibate Rifles and The Replacements made their names there), but this was the great equalizer. A smoky room that holds a couple/few hundred was packed to the gills with Real Rockers of all ages. Band members' families came and the place was just full of great vibes. A throwback to the old days, if you will. This music isnt huge in Michigan by any means, but these were the holdouts and younger converts in the house. People who like this music (us) know that it is the fucking Hammer of the Gods and the best music/art/whatever ever, period. What Im trying to say is that it was really cool to be in a room with so many other people of all generations who already knew this, who didnt need to be convinced. It dont happen in Michigan too often anymore, believe me.
After two really good support acts, Tomb of the Unknowns (sort of a Pere Ubu/Butthole Surfers style assault that included Chris Taylor - pictured left - from Powertrane) and The Paybacks (a dynamite four-piece with a tall, pretty, blond Rock-Chick on guitar and vocals. This band could be huge ) it was time for the big guns. Deniz played the opening riffs to "Hangin' On" and Gillespie lit into the lead - things sounded great! The room was rockin as Tek and Gillespie traded leads, each digging the others chops. As usual Morgan was laying down molten slabs from his Telecaster, and the rhythm section -- the Young Turks was muscular and locked in. As philosopher Bon Scott would say, "The music was good and the music was loud."
From there the band blazed their way through a collection of Greatest Hits. Notice I didn't say "their greatest hits." Thats because they were playing THE Greatest Hits. There was plenty of room for everyone to do their thing. The incestuous nature of the band (Asheton had played with Tek, Tek with Morgan, Morgan with Gillespie, Gillespie with Frost, etc.) was hard to miss during "Future/Now," a burning track off the MC5's classic "High Time" album. Tek and Morgan jointly released a version on the Dodge Main album in 1997. It was actually one of the few songs on that album that came out as good as it should have. Then you had Tyners longtime axe-man Robert Gillespie burning up the strings on stage left. Morgan looked great in ultra-cool shades, and sounded even better. My take on Morgan's vocals (blah, blah, blah hes the best) is pretty well documented, but his voice was really full of fire on this night.
Deniz performed five songs from his solo career all from Outside except "Shellback" from the Italian Tour EP. Call me slow, but I realized that, material-wise, "Outside" is a Radio Birdman album with a different band. I know that doesnt make sense, but hopefully you know what I mean. The pure riffing of songs like "Day To Ride" and "Blood From A Stone" was as Detroit Rock-Ready as anything else played that night. Tek's vocals were strong, and he really cut it as a lead vocalist. When he sings the Birdman numbers you ca't help but compare the vocals to Rob Younger versions. While neither Tek or anyone else is ever gonna surpass the original, he acquitted himself well, and his vocals have gotten stronger as the years have passed. Plus, I'd never heard him sing through anything but the worst sound systems before. All I can say is it sounded right.
The Hydromatics catalog was tapped as well. Early in the show Morgan led the band through "Ready To Ball," the devastating opener on the forthcoming Hydromatics masterpiece, Powerglide. "Ready To Ball" is as grinding and hard as anything Morgan has done, and you know what that means! Gillespie goes off on this one and Hydro's drummer Andy Frost pushed, and pushed, and pushed. Also delivered was a scorching "Runaway Slaves," the consensus best track on the first Hydromatics CD. Morgan handled the screaming wah-wah lead himself, and even flanked by two of the areas best-ever guitarists, burned in his own inimitable (read: loud) style.
The evening's only slightly wobbly number was "Hand Of Law." The band seemed to get a little lost in the middle, but held it together and eventually locked it back in and barreled to the end.. "Smith & Wesson Blues" was totally on and had the predicted effect on the crowd, as did all the Birdman tunes (and most of the others as well. This crowd was ready to do the pop). A slight break in the fury for the brooding, atmospheric, "Give It Up" gave the guitar trio a chance to solo separately and together, with Morgan surprisingly (OK, so I saw them do it at rehearsal) taking the major solo.
The last four songs of the set brought the crowd up to another level of pandemonium. When the band kicked into "Earthy" the fists were in the air "baby dont you want to get!!" The heroic twin guitar leads that follow that line became a trio of guitars and it was hair-raising. The tone of the guitars, Gillespie and Tek flanking Morgan -- what a sight, what a sound. Bassist Chris Taylor, who had been literally pouring out energy all night, and nailing his parts, was getting to the levitation level. It was really inspiring to see young guy who understood the significance of what he was playing, but wasnt visibly in awe. He just played his ass off. Frost too, is a monster musician who absolutely deserved to be on stage with these legends. He is a rock-stud drummer along the lines of Andy Duvall from Zen Guerilla (high praise). Very solid, hard hitting, and fun to watch. During "What Gives?" I saw something truly inspirational. As the whole band were on the mics singing the chorus and the entire crowd had their fists pumping, there was Deniz's daughter, Hana, in front of her dad, in the pit, rocking out. She had her fist in the air and was singing along. I dont know about you, but when I was 17, if my dad had been Deniz Tek, Id have probable ended up listening to Abba. (And spare me the Abba's really great routine it's just us here and we know better).
When "City Slang" begins you know the show will end soon. There just aren't many songs that can follow it. With the Tek/Morgan/Gillespie trio burning eyes, and everyone drenched with sweat (Frost was drenched from about the first minute on), Fred Smiths classic got the workout it deserves. It is such a hard song to play properly that it generally lays musicians to waste, especially drummers, although guitarists have to hold that riff for a long time, which aint easy. When the Hellacopters and the New Bomb Turks toured together in '99 the Turks started out as the headliners. After a couple of nights of the 'Copters finishing their show with Morgan and "City Slang," I overheard the singer of the New Bomb Turks suggest to Nicke Royale that maybe they (the Hellacopters) should headline the tour from now on because "you guys can really hold a riff!" And so the tour went. During the furious jam Deniz was in the crouch grinding out the rhythm and the classic over-the-top leads.
"Outside" followed "City Slang" and I realized that this is one of the only songs that can maintain, and even build on, the intensity of "City Slang." The furious riffing and heroic three chords were mondo-exhilirating and had people, myself included, jumping and pumping, and packing the front of the stage in a clump. Those three chords are perhaps the most heroic three chords in rock and roll, period. If ever there was a song that was "movie/TV-ready" this is it. It would be perfect for an IMAX movie of people rock climbing at 3000 feet in the snow, or some such heroic man conquers nature video.
If that weren't enough, when the band returned they had Ron Asheton with them. When he ripped into the "TV Eye" riff the place went from pandemonium to chaos. The front of the stage was a swirling maelstrom of humanity, mostly guys of course (or as Morgan called it, "a sausage factory"), but there was some chicks in there too, including the young Ms. Tek, who was seeking out contact, searching and destroying, and holding her own. For Taylor and Frost (not to mention Tek/Morgan/Gillespie) playing "TV Eye" with Ron had to be a big thrill. Not only has Asheton still got it, he never lost it and there is no one else who plays like him. The band was joined by Hiawatha from the Cult Heroes, a seminal member of the scene, for "Down On The Street." His stage presence has always been unpredictable and his eyes burned holes through the people in front of him. The guy is way out there and he added a 7th dimension to the six-ring circus, while barking out the lyrics.
"1969" (sung by Morgan) and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (sung by Tek) followed and they were so intense that even an old guy like myself was moved to dive into the pit. People were going nuts and the music was as heartbeat regulating as you can get. Watching and listening to Ron play is a privilege (not a right!), and to hear his music with this band, well, it was mind-blowing. I had just seen Iggy days before and while he was as great as could be imagined; his band was so far below the minimum standard that it was anti-climactic. What he and his management could be thinking is inconceivable. They did embarrassingly bad renditions of "I Got A Right" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (and others) where the band simply could not play the song. Over the course of the show there was not one moment where any of the musicians did anything to distinguish themselves. I must have discussed the show with 25 people and everyone thought the same thing. The band sucked (the drummer was unbelievably bad he dropped so many beats people were picking them up and taking them home as souveneirs!) and brought down Iggys performance many notches. Then you had this band, playing the music the way it was meant to be played. Here was a stage with four guitarists who could cut it in the Igs band and a crack rhythm section. While he aint making the money, Ron must be having the last laugh. The level of his game is so far above the cortical cavities his ex-bandmate is carting around the country with him its hard to measure. To see four guitarists of this calibre, all with totally different styles, just burning, was an honor.
If things couldnt get any crazier, they did anyway when the four-guitar line up launched into "New Race." It had been 20 years since Asheton and Tek did this one together in the band of the same name, but it clicked right away. Everyone in the band and the crowd was screaming "Yeah hup!" at the top of their lungs, with Taylor and Tek sharing a mic. I sent Taylor's boss an email a few days after the show suggesting that he check Taylor's updated resume (he played TV Eye with Ron and sang "yeah hup!" with Deniz Tek!) and give the guy a raise and promotion. No word on results, but at least Chris hasnt been fired yet! When the music stopped the looks in the crowd were priceless. Everyone was totally spent, but wired. The band-members were thrilled with the performance and reaction. The place was trashed. It was a beautiful thing.
The evening ended for me with the 3am singing of Happy Birthday to Deniz. I then glided out into the night (a couple of inches off the ground) and drove off, but not before picking up a Crying Sun T-shirt from Denizs merch-girl, who had never seen her dad rock quite as hard as on that night.
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