Share MICHIGAN PALACE - Circus Boy (self released)
The joke's getting serious but you can still laugh along. Detroit's Circus Boy might have convened as an outlet for the self-destructive antics of frontman Mike JTone (aka Circus Boy) but they sound like a settled line-up on their second album. It's brutally good punk rock in the traditions of the Ramrods, The Punkz and the Dead Boys.
These grizzled vets know their Real Rock Action. Bassist Skid Marx (Flirt, Seat Belts, Motor City Orphans) has been around since the Pope was a priest and he's joined by guitarist Derek Murtagh and drummer Brian Moore, with Gary Adams (Dark Carnival) contributing a cameo on guitar.
And they just don't blindfold and cuff their their singer and take him along for the ride. As a vocalist, Circus Boy is still no choirboy (not that this usually matters) and he actually does sing the shit out of these 10 tunes. It still ain't pretty but it's pretty effective. They may well still be a trainwreck live sometimes and more fun than a de-clawed possum down your pants at your buck's night, but imagining a band on your turntable isn't on a par with being in the same room with them after a dozen cold and frosty ones. Circus Boy (the singer) has enough character in the recorded delivery to get his point across.
Cynics might say it's entirely in character for this band to tackle "Farmer John", the sole cover and one of the dumbest songs to ever grace a turntable. The news is Circus Boy nail it better than, oh, even Crazy Horse. Plus, they play their instruments much better. Of the originals, "When I Go Walkin" is in the same class - or reform school - as "Farmer John", but if you want emotionally fragile philosophising on the state of the human soul, you're in the wrong place, Mr or Ms Emo.
"Political Animal" drops a bucket on the ruling class in the finest traditions of the White Panther Party, with its invocation to "gimme your money." It should become an anthem. "She's A Girl" doesn't breach any misleading advertising laws - it's about a girl - and "When I Go Walkin" is as succinct as it is lyrically diametrically opposed to intellectual discourse. I mean, a line like: "When I got walking down the street/I go walking" isn't going to win any Nobel Peace Prizes but that's the point. Dumbness in rock music is an art form, not a marketing ploy. Ask ther dear departed Dee Dee.
There are 10 songs on "Michigan Palace" and they're as noteworthy for brevity as their insistent and persistent attack. On that score, Murtagh's razorwire guitar-work brings it all into sharp focus and it's a treat to hear someone tearing holes in the sonic landscape like this.
The production (by Kenny Crimewave and Skid Marx) is so far ahead of its predecessor it's not funny. I guess if you're going to throttle your victim during a mugging it's always more gratifying to be able to hear the bones crack.- The Barman
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ARE YOU FOR REAL - Circus Boy (Self Released)
True story: I got drunk with Circus Boy in the Eight Ball Saloon Bar underneath the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My last memory after quite a few beers is of him putting the Five’s “Starship” on the jukebox and us (well, him mostly) belting it out using a bar table as percussion before leaving to drive to a gig at the Elbow Room in Ysplianti, a few miles north. Thankfully, Circus Boy evaded the perils of DUI while I, on the other hand, continued partying and missed the John Sinclair gig upstairs. (I mean, who expected the old bugger would start on time on the Saturday night of A2's infamous Hash Bash?)
So Circus Boy went on to form this band, a floating cast of gnarly Detroit area veterans with all sorts of sordid history under the collective belts. I'm guessing that the singer and band sharing their name with a local boutique beer is only half coincidence. Circus Boy (the band) gets down and chews on a bone in the way that only crumpled, knocked-around outfits from that part of the world can. As for Circus Boy (the singer), well he sounds like he’s fronting his own idiosyncratic jukebox.
Singing is a relative term and it’s fare more appropriate (and polite) to say Circus Boy intones. There are enough Iggyesque “yeahs” and grunts to fill out a month of speech days at a school for the deaf, and if he sometimes careers over a flat spot like a truck with a loose front-end on an ice-topped Michigan interstate highway, well you just know that’s something the band and audience are going to have to take in their collective stride. So deal with it, punk.
The vocals are mixed right up-front and in your face - and that’s probably intentional. This is an album that wants to get your attention. Like the lewd kid at the back of the class who used to hang his wang out. The only criticism is that sometimes it sounds like the band’s playing in another room. Then again, maybe they were. The back cover shows Circus Boy singing with a pumpkin on his head - and you just wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a jack o' lantern if you live near the Motor City where someone might use you for target practice.
The clue to how it sounds lies in the line-up. Guitarist Greasy Carlisi (Sirius Trixon, Johnny Angelos, Dark Carnival and more recently Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding), bassist Skid Marx (Flirt), Margaret Dollrod (Demolition Dollrods), guitarist Gary Adams (Dark Carnival, The Cubes) and the engine room of Derek and Sean Murtagh (Troubleman) may all be familiar names. Aussies might think of them as a Motor City version of the Psychotic Turnbuckles with the wrestling content toned down.
The bedrock is a flint-hard rhythm section underpinning a stream of burred, dull-sheen guitar with a trail of lead-breaks and sharp riffs cascading behind like so much debris falling off a junkyard pick-up truck. Simple, effective and not a million miles away from Dark Carnival, with just a touch less fireworks.
"1974" could be an ode to - or result of - years of chemical parties, while in a similar place is the cover of local legends The Torpedos' "No Pills", which plays out real fine. The lesser-known Dead Boys tune, "Detention Home", threatens to out-Stiv the original with its psychotic vocal and no-nonsense guitar attack. "Blah Blah Blah" shows lack of lyrics is no barrier to writing a song and the carving up of ? and The Mysterians' "Ten o'Clock" leaves a lot of blood on the floor and someone footing an expensive clean-up bill.
"Are You For Real" is not for the faint-hearted (or the musical at heart) but you gotta expect life to be messy when you're performing under the big top without a safety net. - The Barman
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