Contrary to popular belief, The White Stripes aren’t the only great band to come out of Detroit in the past few years. If you’ve relied primarily on the radio and MTV for your music information, it’s likely that you’ve missed one of today’s most unique and true-to-form rock ‘n’ roll bands.
The Detroit Cobras, debuting in 1998 with Mink Rat or Rabbit, are not your average band. Rather than concentrate on writing original songs, the Cobras bring to the music scene a taste of the oldies — the obscure oldies, that is. Covering mainly blues, pop and soul songs from the 1950s and ’60s, the band makes a point of entertaining the audience with rumbling tunes barely anyone alive today still remembers.
Led by tough-as-nails vocalist Rachel Nagy, the group has been through several lineup changes since its debut, but the Cobras’ follow-up releases, 2001’s Life Love and Leaving and April 2003’s EP Seven Easy Pieces have remained strong and possibly even improved upon the band’s first effort. This weekend, the Detroit Cobras return for their third Madison show in as many years, rocking Der Rathskellar at Memorial Union this Saturday night.
What can you expect at the show? A lot of dancing, for one thing. The definite “oldies” feel of the Cobras’ songs lends itself nicely to some old-time twist action, and the band will have a majority of the audience on its feet before the first song is done. Another great aspect of a Cobras’ show is the absolute soul the band puts into every song it plays. It’s easy to see why all the band members are there — because they love the music and, most of all, love playing the music.
The requisite talent is also most definitely in place with the Detroit Cobras, as it seems few bands today could pull off the bluesy-rock-with-an-edge sound the way they can. Nagy’s vocals are often cited as the most prominent feature of the group, and rightfully so — she can belt out a soul tune like the best of them. Listening to her sing, it’s easy to imagine yourself transplanted into a smoky, booze-filled 1950s hole-in-the-wall.
One of the Cobras’ trademark tracks is “Putty in My Hand,” from Mink Rat or Rabbit. Originally recorded by quintessential “girl group” The Shirelles in the early 1960s. When Nagy sings, “They say I’m a fool / ‘cause you treat me so cruel / But I’ll go on this way / Without you babe I’m like a lump of clay,” both the kitch and the hardness of the lyrics are emphasized, giving a sense of near-eroticism to the piece.
The tracks from the Cobras’ last two releases leave nothing to be desired, either. They’ve kept true to the roots-rock feel throughout their career, and drew a full crowd last year when they played Madison’s own Luther’s Blues. At that time, they were just preparing for the U.S. release of Seven Easy Pieces — there seemed no need to worry about sales, however, as it sold over 20,000 copies in its first few weeks of British release. The band offered the EP for sale at the show, as well, and it quickly sold out.
Joining The Detroit Cobras are three other bands, including Milwaukee-based rock/punk group The Mistreaters. As of October, the group is back from its European tour, which their official site, www.themistreaters.com, describes as “33 days, 25 shows, 24 cities, 10 countries.” International touring stars isn’t a bad position to be in, especially when The Mistreaters were playing in basements across the Midwest a mere few years ago.
After a Mistreaters performance in summer 2002 on the Memorial Union Terrace, the stage lights had to be re-mounted, as they were thrown off-kilter when the lead singer dangled from them during the set. They’re a wild bunch, those Mistreaters, and should treat the Rathskellar audience to as many energetic stage antics as we can handle.
Also joining the mix are The Paybacks and The Bleeding Hickeys, both of which sound ready to bring some energetic, shake-your-butt rock ‘n’ roll to the Union this weekend.
The Detroit Cobras, The Mistreaters,, The Paybacks and The Bleeding Hickeys play a free show at Der Rathskellar in Memorial Union this Saturday, Nov. 15, at 9:30 p.m.