Legendary photographer Mick Rock has a new book out, Mick Rock Exposed: The Faces of Rock n Roll and accompanying exhibit up at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in the old CB’s Gallery space just south of Bowery and Bleecker. It’s a must-see: the book is out just in time for the holidays and ought to do just as well if not better than his previous Bowie and glam-themed collections. As he explained before the show’s celebrity-packed opening Tuesday night, this is an eclectic book: he’s never been swayed by popular trends. Although Rock will forever be associated with iconic images like the covers of Lou Reed’s Transformer and the Stooges’ Raw Power, his portraiture over the last forty-plus years is extraordinarily diverse, ranging from Japanese kabuki theatre stars, to a somewhat notorious, self-referencing show featuring Kate Moss in all kinds of provocative poses, to bands as dissimilar as German proto-punks Can, current-day blues belter Shemekia Copeland and gypsy punk stars Gogol Bordello.
As much as Rock has an eye for drama, he often goes for understatement. The best of the most recent images here are an absolutely hilarious Snoop Dogg, looking old yet ganjifically defiant in a George Clinton kind of way (Rock and Snoop seem to have a great mutual appreciation), and a considerably clever spin on an otherwise cliched PR shot of Lady Gag “passed out” in a dirty, trashed bathtub. That shirtless guy standing over her, face out of view? That’s Jack White.
Fans of Rock’s legendary glam-era photography won’t come away disappointed. A Ziggy-era David Bowie is captured in black-and white, pensive and shirtless in an empty room; on the train to Aberdeen with guitarist Mick Ronson; onstage performing “guitar fellatio” as Ronson solos, and in an absolutely brilliant if worrisome 1972 shot where he joins Lou Reed (hiding behind his shades) to support a completely trashed Iggy Pop, who has a pack of Lucky Strikes stuffed in his mouth.
Iggy and the Stooges also figure prominently. A black-and-white shot from 1972 captures the band looking particularly young and vulnerable, a skinny Ron Asheton taking a stab at trying to appear menacing behind his innocuous wireframe glasses (this was before he discovered aviators). The most wrenching of all the photos here is a color headshot of Iggy onstage in 1977, dripping with angst and longing: it’s the visual equivalent of Gimme Danger. There are also a couple of vividly sad Syd Barrett black-and-whites, one where he strikes a karate-like pose in an empty room – he alone knows what it means, if anything – and another with him reclined haggardly on the hood of a battered old Buick convertible (look closely – it’s parked in front of a sparkling new MGB-GT coupe) somewhere in England. By contrast, Rock had the presence of mind to capture Madonna in black-and-white in 1980 (wearing a 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates World Champions tee, licking her shoulder lasciviously – she already knows she’s a star). Everything here that isn’t sold out already is on sale at depression-era prices (a limited edition Transformer print signed jointly by Rock and Reed is three grand). The Morrison Hotel Gallery is open Wednesday-Sunday, noon to 7 PM: shows here turn over fast, go now if you’re thinking about it.
For fans of long-running New England roots reggae band Lambsbread, seeing three of the members onstage at Damrosch Park out back of Lincoln Center Saturday night playing terse, period-perfect, occasionally savage mid-70s Detroit-style rock must have come as a shock – for those who didn’t know the backstory. It’s well-known now: three Detroit brothers start a soul-funk band, discover the MC5 and Stooges, Dennis Thompson rhythm and Ron Asheton guitar snarl, and a new band is born. They called themselves Death, before any heavy metal band could; signed to Columbia Records in 1975, they were unceremoniously dropped when Clive Davis couldn’t persuade them to change their name. The band themselves released a single, then eventually moved to Vermont where they would turn in a direction about as far from proto-punk as you can get. Nine years after guitarist David Hackney died, Drag City finally released a seven-track cd, For the Whole World to See, last year. And the surviving members, bassist Bobby and drummer Dannis Hackney, enlisted their Lambsbread bandmate, guitarist Bobby Duncan (who as a child was given his first guitar by David). The result: a time trip back to a Detroit of the mind, the Stooges at the peak of their woozy, raw power. Forget for a minute that all three of these men are black – this was yet more enduring testament to how music transcends any racial or ethnic differences.
What was most revealing about this show was what a smart band these guys were – and remain. Introducing the ornately scurrying, utterly psychedelic Politicians in My Eyes (the A-side of their prized 1975 single), Bobby Hackney explained that he’d written it in protest of the Vietnam War, watching his friends and neighbors getting drafted left and right. When the band launched into the funereal four-chord progression on the song’s bridge, it was unaffectedly intense. The band’s riff-rock songs – notably the brief Rock N Roll Victim, which could have been early Joy Division, or a cut from the Stooges’ Kill City period – are very simple and catchy. Yet like the Stooges, they didn’t limit themselves to three-minute gems.
And the ghost of Ron Asheton was everywhere. David Hackney internalized Asheton’s bluesy wail and careening riffage as well any other guitarist ever did, and so does Duncan, if with considerably more focus and precision, often tossing off a brief, perfectly executed, barely two-bar lead at the end of a phrase. This version of the band makes every note count, often leaving a lot of space in between guitar fills. Duncan was playing without any effects, which combined with the park’s dodgy sonics to limit his sustain. As a result, a lot of the songs took on a skeletal feel that isn’t present on the album, or in the various live versions scattered around the web. This didn’t pose a problem during the slow, bluesy epic Let the World Turn, with its tricky 7/4 interlude, but it sapped the energy during the chromatically charged You’re a Prisoner and the band’s ridiculously catchy encore, possibly titled Blood on the Highway, to be released by Drag City sometimes this Fall. Like the great Detroit bands who preceded them, Death undoubtedly sound best the closer you are to them. Ron Asheton would approve.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #327:
Radio Birdman – Hit Them Again
Characteristic pyrotechnics from the Australian garage-punk legends’ Radios Appear album, 1979, a co-write with Ron Asheton. Deniz Tek’s excoriating noise solo as the song burns its way out is pure adrenaline. Mp3s are everywhere – and here’s the Visitors doing the song in 2008 live!
As you probably already know, the old American Top 40 had about as much to do with actual popularity and record sales as…well…as much as this page does. Nothing at all, in fact. This is just another way for us to spread the word about some of the best under-the-radar stuff out there.
1. Jay Bennett – The Engines Are Idle
This big, vicious, 100% acoustic ballad is the centerpiece of the former Wilco multi-instrumentalist’s brilliant new cd Whatever Happened, I Apologize.
2. Soil & “Pimp” Sessions – Storm
Wild stuff by the Japanese inventors of the “death jazz” genre (actually the most live sound you could ever want to hear, right from the wall of horns that hits you upside the head as the song opens). From their upcoming cd Planet Pimp, scheduled for release on Koch on 2/24.
3. Our Vision – The Game
A big, sweeping, gorgeous janglerock anthem. Sounds a lot like the Church! They’re at Ace of Clubs on 4/3
4. The Mad Dukes – Gone Gone Gone
Hauntingly rustic Steve Earle-esque murder ballad with a trick ending, a remake of the version that first appeared on Kim Simpson’s 1996 Midnight Apparitions cd.
5. Julia Haltigan & the Hooligans – All I Can Think of Is You
Really cool, noirish jazzy Americana. Click on this and then try tuning out. You can’t. She’s at 11th St. Bar on 2/24 at 10.
6. The Great Deceivers – Starless
7. Ten Pound Heads – Paint Manhattan Black
A pop song as Iron Maiden or King’s X might have done it – fast new wave bassline, organ in the background. Good stuff.
8. Destroy All Monsters – Party Girl
Yeah, we’ve been surfing youtube. This is a golden oldie, Ron Asheton’s late 70s band with Detroit cult vocalist Niagara. She looks great and the footage of Ron’s characteristic wailing solos is choice. Turn it up.
9. The Brooklyn What – Soviet Guns
Wouldn’t be a Top Ten without a Brooklyn What song, right? And it makes a great segue with Ron Asheton. This is a characteristically snarling live take from the Brooklyn Lyceum show last year that made our Top 20 shows of 2008 list.
10. Rocketship Park – Birthdaydeathwish
The beautiful lushness of the string section and the soaring melody of this big ballad makes you forget about the flat, weak, stereotypical indie vocals. They’re at Monkey Town on 2/21 at 10:30 PM with the smartly amusing Balthrop Alabama.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Today’s song is #527:
The Stooges – I’m Sick of You
Absolutely evil proto-punk from 1974, Iggy getting snuck out of heroin rehab to do vocals, James Williamson’s offhandedly vicious guitar over Ron Asheton’s bunker-buster descending progression on the bass. It’s on a million compilations on both vinyl and cd; mp3s are everywhere.