I need to gush. I need to gush because I’ve been in a few bands over the years, and I know a good thing when I see it. And when I see four punks from Detroit lay it all out on the stage like The Hounds Below did Friday night at the Turf Club, it’s my duty, honor,…obligation to spread the love.
I was at the Turf as part of the Rock and Roll Swap meet, displaying my artwork, (Shameless plug, see links to the left), but I left as a new fan of The Hounds Below. So refreshing to see a band that has every right to cock off, but aren’t yet aware of their genius to do so. Being their first album, I thought they probably had no clue how hard it is to pull off a Pixies cover at a bar that’s heard “Where is My Mind?” four thousand times, but when they dropped it, it was like hearing it for the first time. You don’t just pull that out of a hat. You have to live it, love it, mash it up in the garage and your head for years, so when you let it out, it’s as natural as a yawn on Saturday morning. Upon further review, front man Jason Stollsteimer’s been around the block a few times with the Von Bondies, so it makes sense they’re built to deliver.
Drummer Griffin Bastian hit the heads with the force of a young Larry Mullen Jr., bringing me flashbacks of Bono talking about hearing Mullen play in his kitchen for the first time. Jason Stollsteimer’s guitar is reminiscent of Verlaine’s Marque Moon, but without the teeth grinding amphetamine perfection. The simple riffs between players were sometimes so intertwined, even the saltiest bar veteran would have a hard time deciphering who’s playing what. Not a small feat, considering we could just write this off as a vehicle for Stollsteimer, but it has much more potential than that.
The simple, vague lyrics and arrangements do what all great rock songs do, invite your experience along for the ride, even when you see the twists and turns coming from a mile away. It’s pure pop, but with the same artistic merit of a Nirvana-a sound too good to stay out of the mainstream, but doesn’t pander to it.
All the right influences are there. The loud-quiet-loud of the Pixies, chord changes so perfect you know you’ve heard it before, but you haven’t. It’s like they picked up the Arcade Fire passion baton, but sprint by us without looking as naive. Stollsteimer’s vocals were as good as it gets, but he kicks in a Mariah Carey falsetto where it shouldn’t belong, and leaves everyone in the bar jaw dropped. Even the between song banter was quick, almost savant like. “We’re gonna sing more songs about love and regret,” Stollsteimer said. Yea, we’ve heard that before, but somehow not like this. Every rock and roll cliche was present, accounted for, and welcomed, because what takes the great ones over the top is an untethered love and faith in what they’re doing, and The Hounds Below exude this.
Before I made the Von Bondies connection, I felt like I was witnessing the real birth of an up and coming giant. It was like I’d finally been at one of those shows you dream about; The way it might have felt seeing The Talking Heads at CBGB’s for the first time. Considering the success of Von Bondies, alas my dream faded, but it doesn’t diminish the greatness of this first record. As I gladly handed my card to bassist Mathew Hofman for a CD, I said that’s probably the best live show I’ve seen in five years. After listing to the disc, and digesting, it may be better. I’ll keep my receipt from their first iPhone credit card purchase as proof I saw it coming when their music flashes by the on the next T-Mobile commercial. Although I hope it never comes to that.