Drowning in bass and revelling
in garage glory...

Little Steven’s Underground Garage Presents the Rolling Rock and Roll Show
The Black Cat, Washington, DC
October 22, 2006


With the brown, yellow, and orange onset of fall symbolizing the state of rock ’n’ roll itself, Little Steven’s Underground Garage traveling circus -- dedicated to saving rock ’n’ roll -- landed in Washington, DC’s Black Cat club on October 22 with four bands in tow. Billed as the “Rolling Rock and Roll Show,” it featured all the hallmarks of a Little Steven production -- corporate sponsorship (this time by AT&T and the Rolling Rock brewery, hence pun in title), iridescent lighting sprucing up the elaborate stage setup (in this case a sky blue backdrop adorned with bright green lettering), go-go dancers, and an emcee. Some elements hit, some miss, but you always have to admire the effort.

First up on the bill was DC’s own the Sentiment. My “sentiment” is that they’re yet another of this city’s many boring “indie rock” Radiohead wannabes (or something). Next ...

... up were the Charms, a brash young quintet from Boston with a spunky name and sound to match. With their blend of power pop and modern garage, a sprightly platinum blonde girl singer, a tight guitar-bass-keyboards front line that looks like the Detroit Cobras, and a red-mohawked drummer, they’re the kind of thing one expects to like. Or at least I really wanted to like them. Unfortunately, the songs didn’t leave much of an impression.

Or was it even their fault? Don’t know if it was the club or the Underground Garage people, but the sound throughout the show was lackluster at best -- with deafening bass drowning out virtually everything and perhaps obscuring the harmonies the Charms were trying to pull off. Seriously, did the soundman have too many Rolling Rocks? Didn’t anyone tell him that the bass (and that includes a bass drum loud enough to make my chest vibrate) sounded like shit and was way too loud?

Equally bad was the classic rot station emcee, whose idiotic sloganeering (“let’s have a hand for ...” followed each band’s coda -- how original) was the worst since ... the last classic rot station emcee at the Underground Garage Battle of the Bands in June 2004. Then again, what would one expect from someone who spins Foreigner records for a living?

Not even the crappy intro could spoil the Romantics, the third band on the bill. Twenty-two years removed from their occasionally maligned ’80s hits (“Talking in Your Sleep” and “One in a Million”), the reformed, refocused Romantics have returned to their roots as streetwise Detroit rock ’n’ rollers brandishing their MC5, Rationals, and Detroit Wheels influences on their power-pop-stained sleeves. They in fact covered the MC5 (“Tonight”), as well as the Pretty Things -- twice, with “Midnight to Six Man” and “Come See Me.” Propelled by the tiger-toothed drumming of Brad Elvis, the original core of Wally Palmar, Mike Skill, and Coz Canler ripped through the finest cuts from their last album (2003’s underrated 61/49) like the gritty “61/49” and the power pop of “Devil in Me” and “New Kinda Pain.” They also rocked up “Talking in Your Sleep” as if the ’80s never happened and banged out old favorites like “Tom Boy” and “First in Line” (their second single) as if there were no tomorrow. When they drafted Charms bassist Mark Nigro for the triumphant finale of (you guessed it) “What I Like About You,” it was as if the crowd needed to express the song’s sentiment to them.

With that preceding them, the night’s headliners, the Shadows of Knight, had a lot to follow. And with their (unjustified) dismissals by the Garage Trash Mafia for not strictly adhering to primitive 1966 ideals, they perhaps had two obstacles to overcome. But whether it was via hurdling or a simple bulldozing, they saw all obstacles in their way and eliminated them.

Still led by original vocalist Jim Sohns, plus long-time mate Lee Brovitz on bass and three others (guitarist Bobby Messano, keyboardist Michael Junkroski, and drummer Michael Campbell), these Shadows of Knight came out of the gate with a tight, biker-band savvy, donning all black and playing as if a modern blues band were covering the old repertoire. Maybe this is what pissed off enough people to clear the room at Coney Island High in New York City in October 1997, but who cares? This current group has earned the right to call themselves the Shadows of Knight.

They were out of the gate with a driving rendition of the final Dunwich single, “Someone Like Me,” which was followed by rock ’n’ roll party versions of “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’” and “I Got My Mojo Working” that got the crowd going. A brief foray into the new SOK album (A Knight to Remember) with “All of My Nights” was highlighted by the first of Sohns’ crowd excursions, this time dancing -- and not embarrassingly, it should be emphasized -- with a girl half his age. Speaking of girls, the classic cover of the Wheels’ “Bad Little Woman” got a makeover, as the current band upped the instrumental ante and Sohns’ experience showed yet again in the vocal department. Likewise, the next number, “I’m Gonna Make You Mine,” fit well in the context of this lineup, raunch and rolling along in spite of missing the garage spark of the original 1966 fuzz punk version.

“Where are my girls?” Sohns beckoned prior to a great version of the Shadows’ last hit, “Shake” -- which was highlighted not only by the colorful go-go boots of the four young lasses who’d been on display between each band, but Sohns himself, who again held his own in a mock “Dancing With the Stars” display.

As guitarist Messano turned off the distortion for a jangling sound, everyone knew what was coming: “Gloria,” the song that put the Shadows of Knight on the map in 1966. Sohns went full bore into the crowd this time, demanding singalongs, handing the mike to fans, and just enjoying the hell out of his “dirty old man” role (and I mean that in a good, not creepy, way). Forty years on, the teenager who struck gold had rediscovered his teenaged self to the delight of the crowd. Even the Garage Trash Mafia would have to give him that. -Doug Sheppard