The brave souls that dared to leave their homes during Los Angeles’ 2006 “storm of the century” and made their way to Sunset Blvd. were treated to an energetic show featuring the unlikely pairing of Rock Kills Kid and Electric Six. Even the unusually wet weather outside couldn’t dampen the spirits of the preternaturally rain-shy L.A. crowd inside The Key Club and the room was filled to capacity for these up-and-comers.
Local boys Rock Kills Kid warmed it up with an impressive set of latter day New Wave. Like most of the crowd in attendance my only exposure to opener Rock Kills Kid was recent radio play for their first single “Paralyzed” and like most of the crowd, I was surprised by how good their show was. There were a handful of dedicated fans in attendance who sang along with every song but for the most part, the band was here to win new converts and that’s exactly what they did. Songs like “Hide Away” and “Raise Your Hands” connected immediately with an appreciative crowd. Their cover of Echo and The Bunnymen’s “Bring On The Dancing Horses” was well suited to their brand of edgier, rock-tinged New Wave. Students of musical history, and those with good CD collections, will recall that, once upon a time, back in the days before The Jam gave way to The Style Council and before the genre finally drowned in a sorry sea of keyboards, new wave was only recently diverged from its punk roots. In those days bands like Wire and The Undertones still injected a lot of early punk’s swagger into their art-school sensibilities and sometimes made it hard to tell the difference. Yes, in its early inceptions, New Wave rocked.
Rock Kills Kid seemed to have rediscovered that tradition, dusted it off and held it up proudly before the light. A few of the songs had synths but when guitarist Reed Calhoun moved over to the keyboards they were used sparingly and effectively, layered into a mix of honest to god power chords over solid rock drumming. Singer Jeff Tucker is a vocalist to watch capable of pretty melodies and velvety smooth vocals that best today’s current crop of retro bands (watch out Killers), couched in the razor sharp brooding of Ian Curtis. Rock Kills Kid delivered an energetic and disarming set of solid songwriting, with a confident stage presence beyond their years, and I expect to see more good things from this band in the future.
Electric Six’s performance was an entirely different matter. If rock bands were like fantasy sports teams and one could, let’s say, take those funky white-boys from Wild Cherry draft Angus Young for the kind of guitar riffs even an arena could barely contain and throw a demented Neil Diamond front-man into the mix you might get something like Electric 6. The result would be, of course, totally rockin’, sufficiently funky, and would disco-dance you into oblivion. In this world of fantasy rock bands Electric 6 would be the team that is “just crazy enough to work.” Collectively, the group refers to their sound, a mix of disco, arena rock, 80’s keyboard dance-pop, et al as “the total entertainment solution.” For the fans in attendance that couldn’t have been more true. Singer Dick Valentine opened their set with the announcement that “we love coming to L.A. and getting progressively more trashed as the night goes on.” And away we go. E6 had the entire crowd on their feet and shaking it from the opening strains of “Improper Dancing,” their high octane, disco flavored tune from their fist album Fire.
Electric Six is the kind of band you’d wish was playing every night on your campus. Equal parts party atmosphere, dancing girls and freshly tapped kegfuls of exuberance and it was impossible not to have fun at this show. For my money, Electric Six are probably the most entertaining group to come out of Detroit since KISS. The band members use stage names like The Rock and Roll Indian and Joe Surgebot and their songs about drinking, dancing, sex and fast food are the kind of sure-fire crowd pleasers that can’t miss with a room full of buzzed twenty something club goers. Electric Six seem to get the balance just right, keeping the energy level of the crowd high throughout all of their set. Smoldering dance rock numbers like “Rock and Roll Evacuation” and “Dance Epidemic,” both off their most recent album Señor Smoke, got the crowd moving and this was the first show this reviewer has ever attended that saw moshing and, a Saturday Night Fever style conga-dance-line break out during the same song and, with equal sincerity.
The party atmosphere paused for only a moment with the band’s first encore song “Jimmy Carter,” a slow ballad about, at least in part, The Backstreet Boys. Dick Valentine then announced, to predictable cheering, that “for the encore we usually play just one more song but we didn’t come here to play twenty songs, we came here to play twenty-one!” (they played twenty-two) before launching into a spirited cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back” that seemed to strike just the right tone amidst their spirit of excess.
Lyrically Electric Six weave a tapestry of delirious imagery where ex-presidents dance, evil boys eat evil fast food and set fire to the Taco Bell, beauty pageant judges hang with Canadian Go-Go Girls and Japanese Karate Girls and The Jacksons are reuniting (they’re going on tour). In “Be My Dark Angel” the band tells us how “You were walking down the street/ you were just across the street/ so I had to cross the street/ to get to your side of the street.”
And for anyone who thought the non-sequiturs might just be limited to the songs Dick Valentine delivered, to the delight of the crowd, between song banter like “Anyone here trying to start a band? It’s hard working with people, just imagine directing your own TV pilot. Now we’re going to play some songs from our new album ’cause we need to get to San Francisco.” Live, the band delivers all this weird fun with such confidence and polish that there is no doubting that they believe every word. And why not? Electric Six take themselves seriously so that the rest of us don’t have to — it’s the audience that gets to have all the fun. Besides, the dance grooves these guys lay down are so infectious it’s hard to care or even hold still for an entire song.
All photos by Thang Truong