Thursday, October 19, 2017

Live Review: Soundgarden's Final Show at the Fox on Wednesday, May 17

Originally published in the Detroit Metro Times on May 18, 2017

PHOTO BY JARRETT KORAL.It comes with great shock to say that Chris Cornell, one of the greatest vocalists ever in alternative music, has passed away in Detroit at the age of 52. I must admit that it’s tough to write a show review in light of these tragic circumstances. Of course, Cornell’s final show should be detailed. And fans know that he passed after an incredible show.

During last night’s show at the Fox Theatre, Soundgarden were in top form. One of the last surviving alt-rock greats from the '90s, the group, surprisingly, played hits “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun” during the first half of the set. This proper choice led to further experimentation, allowing them to dive further into cuts from their most recent, and now final album, 2012’s ‘King Animal’. While the set was admittedly heavy on classics from Superunknown, jams from Badmotorfinger allowed the band members to pulsate off one another. The two-song encore, comprised of “Rusty Cage” and “Slaves and Bulldozers,” both from the previously mentioned album, was certainly the highest energy portion of the evening, allowing for serious riffage between guitarist Thayil, bassist Shepherd and drummer Cameron. During the latter and final song, Cornell dove into a verse or two of “In My Time Of Dyin',” a poignant and Earth-shattering point in the night, now devastating.

Between several songs, Cornell raved about his admiration for Detroit crowds. “I’ve bragged about Detroit crowds for thirty years!” said Cornell, also mentioning that he had “never been disappointed” with crowds in the city and that shows here were “pretty much all inclusive”. While this sort of crowd rant is displayed at most every show, it could be seen that Cornell truly held Detroit in high regards. Near the end of the show, Cornell riffed “I feel bad for the next city — I’ll say ‘you should’ve been at that Detroit show!,’” a comment which shows that Cornell truly gave his all in Detroit.

After the passing of Cornell, along with those of Cobain, Hoon, Staley and Weiland, Eddie Vedder remains as the sole vocalist in the foundation of the 90s grunge boom. Most sadly of all, future generations won’t be able to hear Cornell’s voice in person; a voice which rings triumphant on records but shone ever so brightly in person. Picking up his guitar and mic stand at the end of “Jesus Christ Pose,” just before the encore, the crowd erupted. Just as it should have been, Cornell left the stage after the encore with the droning feedback still going on. The feedback continued for another few minutes until Thayil left the stage, almost immediately cutting the noise and turning off all the lights, resulting in a deep black. Even after the band had left the stage, the crowd still erupted.


After Populux Scandal, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Resumes

Published in the Detroit Metro Times on September 21, 2016

Traversing up the
 stairs to the Magic Stick now, inside the Majestic complex on Woodward, seemingly little has changed from when the venue was in full operation. At the top of the stairs, the familiar bar is still there, but the ambiance of the place feels different. Less grungy and more refined, the new incarnation of the Magic Stick offers patrons the chance to experience one of Detroit's legendary music venues while also being involved in something new and exciting for the Detroit music scene.
The venue has been in the hands of the Zainea family since 1946, but in 1994, Dave Zainea convinced his dad to let him introduce a nightclub in the complex that already contained a large bowling alley, theater, and bar. While the theater offers space for larger touring acts, the Stick offersa decent-sized room for local and smaller touring bands.
Both Zainea and business partner Dan McGowan, of Crofoot Presents, seem ecstatic about the reopening.
Walking with McGowan through the new Magic Stick, Zainea is quick to divert attention to a flyer on top of the bar advertising the White Stripes as third billing, which seems to only solidify the venue's standing in Detroit's storied garage-rock past.
While other venues like the Gold Dollar and Zoot's Coffee House offered positive reinforcement for local musicians, the Magic Stick was able to offer a larger room and a more inclusive setting. Playing the Magic Stick was like making it big for many musicians in the local scene. This is a tradition Zainea hopes will continue, saying he knows that the Magic Stick became a "cornerstone to the music community."
Both local and worldwide artists took the stage for more than 20 years before the venue closed its doors in 2015, when the Magic Stick changed from a garage-rock haven to a dance nightclub in the middle of that year. The new venue, Populux, replaced the Magic Stick's classic pool tables with DJ equipment and high-tech lights.
The conversion to Populux left many in the local scene disillusioned, including Lee Rosenbloom, a frequent concertgoer and local promoter.
"I understand why they tried Populux. The crowds for the shows at the Magic Stick weren't as big as they used to be. You'd sometimes have touring bands play there to a half-empty room when the same band would pack people in when they played Chicago or Cleveland the next night," Rosenbloom says.
Knowing that the Majestic complex was so closely associated with the Magic Stick, Rosenbloom never believed Populux had a chance. "In all the time it was open, a Populux sign was never even made for the outside or inside. In all that time, the Magic Stick signs were still up all over the place."
One challenge the reopening of the Magic Stick poses for management is competing with clubs that opened in Detroit while the Magic Stick name laid dormant. Speaking as a promoter, Rosenbloom says now that the Magic Stick is back, they'll have to be more aggressive in booking good shows, as clubs like El Club and the Marble Bar have opened since the Stick closed, giving bands more options than they did a year or so ago when the Stick was still in operation.
Rosenbloom fondly remembers downing shots with Jack White before White Stripes shows in the Majestic Cafe — just one example of what the venue means to those who were there in the early days of Detroit garage rock.
Populux closed its doors in July after an anti-Black Lives Matter rant was posted on the club's Twitter account following a mass shooting in Dallas. The tweets were attributed by the club's owners to hacking.
Rather than trying to salvage the Populux venue, Zainea figured it best to return to the reliable Magic Stick name and brand, something that he says offers an "opportunity to pivot" for both the Stick and Detroit's music scene.
"I don't regret the partnership with Amir Daiza [the local promoter who leased Populux from Zainea and ran the venue], but the only thing I regret is the changing of the name," Zainea says. "The Magic Stick name has credibility in Detroit, so we wanted to return to that."
It only seems fitting the Magic Stick makes its return in the same time frame as White's opening of a Third Man Records location in Detroit. With its intense roots from the forefront of Detroit's garage rock scene in the late '90s and early aughts, the Stick could make a full return to form.
It was Zainea's idea to change the upstairs area from a multilane bowling alley to a nightclub, realizing that the Majestic complex could be an all-inclusive entertainment center, while also noticing the steadily rising local music scene in the surrounding Cass Corridor and Midtown areas.
Now that the Magic Stick is returning to its beloved and recognizable name, a pool table has been reinstalled to its rightful place by the rear bar, surrounded by posters on the walls offering shows for bands like the Melvins and Queens of the Stone Age.
The Stick is nicer than before too. The small stage has been updated with a large centered stage, surrounded by state-of-the-art sound equipment that was once used as part of Metallica's touring rig. A brand-new floor has been installed along with brilliantly clean new bathrooms, something anyone familiar with the old venue should be ecstatic about. While Populux is gone, the only things left behind are the light posts, and even then in limited capacity, as Zainea says the lights won't be on at rock shows.
Zainea says he's proud of the direction the venue is heading. "We're having local employees who live in Detroit in Corktown [work] here, a diverse staff."
Patrons are free to roam during shows: If someone wants a slice of pizza, they can walk downstairs, buy it, and return to the show.
The shows at the Magic Stick will reflect "diverse and eclectic booking," according to Zainea and McGowan — something Populux was unable to offer, although the dance club was often packed on show nights.
The energy in Detroit's music scene, and the Zainea's family longtime involvement in it, are reasons to reboot the Magic Stick name, Zainea says. He's not worried about new venues that have opened, either.
"In places like Austin, the live scene thrives," Zainea says. "It shouldn't be a problem for all these venues in the city to be running at the same time; we all work with each other."
While live music events were infrequently held in the Populux space under the Magic Stick name, the venue is completely returning with a Sept. 23 show by the Buzzcocks, who last performed in Detroit at Saint Andrew's Hall.
The Stick now offers increased lines of sight and multiple viewing platforms for those wanting to be away from the crowd action, but still wanting to see the band perform. For musicians, a brand-new green room has been built.
The old Magic Stick is still there in spirit through the posters of the legendary shows held there, but the new incarnation of the Stick offers something new for those interested in both the venue's history and future.
"We're proud to be involved with the Stick again, and we're looking forward to its bright future," Zainea says.
The Buzzcocks headline the official Magic Stick kickoff party with special guests Residuels and Devious Ones at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23. All ages; tickets are $25 in advance and $28 on the day of the show. 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Visit for more information.
Jarrett Koral is the founder of the record label Jett Plastic Recordings.

Review: Danny & The Darleans - "Bug Out"

Published in the Detroit Metro Times on December 7, 2016

Detroit's Danny and
 the Darleans are certainly on a roll. Their self-titled debut album (Nero's Neptune, 2013) was the stuff of legends, admittedly something only Danny Kroha could pull off. Kroha, who of course shared dual frontman duty with Mick Collins in the highly influential Gories, has that certain kind of enviable charm, and it shines more than ever on these recordings.
Kroha released his debut full-length folk-blues solo record last year to widespread acclaim. The album shows his most comfortable place is with an electric guitar. Richie Wohlfeil, proprietor of Lo & Behold Records and Books in Hamtramck, sits behind the group's kit, and whether you've heard of him, he's one of — if not the — most solid drummers in Detroit. Wohlfeil's fills shine through on tunes like the opening track stomper "Bug Out Bag," and "I'm Right Here," produced with some mighty fine bombastic rhythm. His fills are nothing to gawk at, and he makes this band what it is.
Kroha's raunchy guitar solos are more refined than his original stint in the Gories, and the solidity of his vocals stand strong. Bassist Colleen Burke and Wohlfeil work together on the bluesy "Let's Stomp," a highlight of the album, which also highlights Kroha's wide and unique vocal range. Kroha gives some nod to his Gories days by covering Eddie Holland's Motown classic "Leaving Here," a tune the Gories often played live but never recorded in the studio (for reference, seek the Gories 1988 live album The Shaw Tapes, finally released in 2015). Longtime live staples from the Darleans are also present in "Who Dat?" and "Dr. Finger," songs that go back to the release of their previous album in 2014.
Kroha angrily laments love on songs like "Soul on Ice" by screaming "You put me in a cage/ that only fueled my rage/ I realize what I did was wrong/ you can't hold me here too long." Lyrics like these would be deemed too simplistic in any other case, but here they shine. By not overplaying and keeping the recordings simple, the band makes clear their stylistic reign. ''Dr. Finger" is another highlight, starting out with Burke's tonal bass lines and slowly gliding into ghostly, Shirelles-like backing vocals. Kroha's overlaid howling at the dangers of addiction showcase a shivery kind of lamentation, and it's difficult not to replay this jam. The album closes fittingly with a traditional take on the Nightcrawlers' "Little Black Egg," and, in all honestly, it's surprising this is the first time Kroha has laid this tune to tape.
This is one of the last albums Jim Diamond recorded at Ghetto Recorders before his trek overseas, and it's fitting that the closure of Ghetto coincides with the recording of an album that authentically screams about the fact it was made in Detroit. In the Red Records seems a fitting place for the band, resting on the same roster alongside scene contemporaries like Tyvek and the Dirtbombs.
This unique placement shows label owner Larry Hardy knows more about Detroit music than most people who live here. Coming from a label in Los Angeles, we see that the modern Detroit musical renaissance doesn't only have to be confined to our city itself. Bug Out is a fantastic record if only for the fact it highlights Kroha's importance in the ever-growing Detroit music scene, which is steadily growing, but also looking to Kroha's work in bands like Rocket 455 and the Demolition Doll Rods for inspiration.