Sorry guys, one record every four years ain't enough. It ain't enough to keep your fans sated, and it ain't enough build on that fan base. Witness the 50 or so people in The Rock & Roll Hotel on Friday. If The Go does ever take off, those fans will be telling the story of how they saw the band play a great set in front of almost nobody in the summer of 2007.
Anyone listening for favorites songs from the past was out of luck, but The Go didn't disappoint. Essentially, the group played its new record, mostly in sequence, with a couple other songs thrown into the set. "Howl on the Haunted Beat You Ride" is as different from 2003's "The Go" as that album was from 1999 debut "Whatcha' Doin'" but each is garage rock rooted in the history of rock and roll. For "The Go," the band ditched the fuzzy noise of their debut in favor of glammy rock. Now, The Go sounds more retro than ever playing music with earlier rock influences, particularly the British Invasion '60s, for a more pop rock sound.
The band opened with "You Go Bangin' On," a song with a great beat and steadily bouncing bass line. It's really the only song of the new batch that hints at the oversexed content of the group's debut, but it was double entendre rather than overt horniness. Guitarist John Krautner took over vocals for the second song, "Invisible Friends," a sunnier tune. Krautner's voice isn't as strong as Bobby Harlow's and was just plain flat on this song, but he'd rebound and sing much more confidently on his later vocal turns. The set then took a turn to sweeter territory. "Caroline" is maybe the band's most romantic composition, full of longing. "So Long Johnny" starts in the same territory -- sweet, but not so romantic as "Caroline" -- before taking the band back to rock and roll as it stormed to a finish. But maybe the highlight of the new songs is "Yer Stoned Italian Cowboy," a chill, groovin' rock song that turns into a choogle. Following that, the quartet displayed its darker side with the haunting "Refrain."
Later in the set, Harlow revealed the night had turned into Krautner's birthday as the clock ticked past midnight, and Krautner's apparent shyness surfaced as he tried to shake it off, but Harlow led the crowd in a pathetic "Birthday Song," prompting Krautner to joke that he was glad he was wearing his (signature) sunglasses so we couldn't see him cry. Here the band finally went off album for a couple of songs to stretch the set a bit before returning to album closer "Smile." While it begs for its title, the song is softly defiant and depressing, with Harlow singing "You can take everything, you can take your body away." And it came to a close with Krautner's best searing guitar solo followed by an eerie chorus of "Oh baby"s.
Though younger and not ready to become the Detroit renaissance mainstay The Go has become, fellow Detroit band Freer sounds more able to capture a modern audience's attention. It too played garage-based music, with the frontman skillfully playing an electric piano and a Moog simultaneously while displaying an expansive vocal range. And befitting an angry young band, the songs frequently addressed the trying to make it in music theme, leaving the audience with images of rude crowds and bloody microphones. At times, the band sounded reminiscent of Ben Folds Five, not only for the piano -- the waltz intro on one song is definitely the type of trick up Folds' sleeve -- but also for the pop punk tendencies. But what made the band sound more sellable to this generation of music fans was the ever-present post-punk influence, which made the music the most danceable of the evening. And the band also took the audience on little journeys with its well-timed and frequent rhythmic changes. But the singer's frequent requests for people to buy albums so they could eat and maybe even offer a floor for the band to sleep on was discomforting. It was already a shame that not many people turned out for this show. Don't try to make us feel worse.
Surprisingly impressive was Silver Spring's the Jet Age. This is a local band worth checking out. While mixing some power pop and psychedelia into their songs, the group also played largely garage rock -- the loudest, heaviest, most adrenaline-fueled set of the evening. And the singer's voice, soft and tender and heading toward the upper ranges (think post-Beatles McCartney sans accent), was an interesting counterpoint on top of that hard rock.