DETROIT DELIVERS RETRO ROCK: And For One Reason Or Another.... Stays There....


Detroit, MI – I picked up a copy of something called, Real Detroit in the winter months of 2002 when I got back home from New York. There was in the winter months of 2002 when I got back home from New York. There was a band on the cover called, The White Stripes and there was an article written about them. They wore white t-shirts and red pants and were being hailed as the future of Detroit rock music. I had been away for a long time working in advertising in Chicago and New York City and I never even heard of these guys. Apparently I had missed something. There was an original rock movement that had taken off and I had missed it.

There was no mention of where I could catch their show because it looks like they left Detroit. They were producing national tours and have signed on with a big label. After that I noticed there was a lot of tribute acts such as Zooropa – a U2 tribute band. This went on for quite some time. During those early 2000’s I listened to a lot of sports radio. There wasn’t a whole lot happening on the original front and before too long Van Halen got back together and started doing arena shows again.

Now, in Detroit there are only so many things you can do at night. Staying home on the weekends is hardly an option. You can either go out and drink – as in going out clubbing or you can go to the bars and see some retro tribute bands. The later is something that is starting to really catch on in the D and these days you can practically trip over them……

On that note if there is a soundtrack these days to modern day living in Detroit you have already heard it before. There are more tribute bands popping up all over Metro Detroit than any other format. That is good and bad depending where you stand on the issue. If you are a major venue like a Motor City Soundboard or MGM Casino the first rule of thumb is to look in the other direction. Because of the way business is done and the way talent agencies interact with the gaming commission tribute bands are bad for business. They are not even allowed to play at Motor City Casino. Just ask Olympia Entertainment. So that leaves small pubs and other obscure venues that tend to open their doors for them.

Metro Detroit moves differently than other places I’ve lived in like SONO, SOHO, Chicago and New York. It does what it wants to do. It is stubborn. If it likes a certain something it will stay stuck there until something else comes along. And right now, that thing to be stuck on is….

Classic rock oddly enough. But the Detroit music scene takes it one step further. It doesn’t waste time digging up the old sounds that has cemented it in fame. It is digging up stuff that was popular in other music scenes and even far away countries like the UK. Sounds strange… and it is.


I’m not knocking these bands because they are actually very talented and can play exceptionally well. What I am questioning is why the sudden urge to become somebody else? Especially now when people in my age group are facing the rippling waves of unemployment. I mean, what is there to look forward to in this economy. You may as well throw caution to the wind and rock your brains out. And that is exactly what many people are doing …. Right about now.


First up on the list is The Smiths Are United. This is a great Smiths tribute band right here in Metro Detroit. They play somewhat infrequently but are definitely worth catching. They put on a very tight performance and pay homage to Johnny Marr and Morrissey…. In the year 2014. And they are doing it in Detroit and not in the UK. But why Detroit?

The songs are very complicated to play. They draw from a range of 5 masterful albums that came out in the early 80’s. When the Smiths were big in the UK they hardly drew any attention here in the US let alone Detroit. The Rough Trade artists actually did play in Detroit in 1986 to support their epic album, “The Queen is Dead” at the Filmore. But it was a real sleeper hit and that tour and album alike went down into the lore of a cult band. It would be years before radio stations would embrace them and welcome them into any sort of limelight. I often wonder who was even listening to this band at the time of their popularity. There were fans but they were very scattered in Michigan and especially at that time.  But make no mistake about it this band is alive again thanks to local musicians who remember.

I am one of the more honest Metro Detroiters out there will tell you point blank that I never saw The Smiths. Many people claim to be at that show… blah blah yeah… I know. But I ALMOST went, I actually opted for a chance to spend time in North Michigan when they came. I did see Morrissey tour solo though. I am grateful to have been part of a live Smiths experience. These guys do a phenomenal job.

Still though… why Detroit guys?


Zooropa is the U2 tribute band. They put on a great show too only this time it is paying tribute to a band in a far away place – in this case Ireland. It is interesting to note that both of these bands playing at a time of great economic uncertainty. There is some kind of connection here. In the film, “It Might Get Loud” Jack White of the White Stripes talks about his Detroit upbringing and the poor conditions of his neighborhood in Mexicantown. After his fame launch I noticed he doesn’t spend much time there….. The Edge, the guitarist from U2, also mentions that his band started up in an age of economic turmoil. I have no idea why the Smiths started playing together…..London has always been depressing. It was the post punk era too so maybe that had something to do with it.

If you want to suspend belief and travel back in time to see the Doors – well you can. The Official Detroit Doors Tribute Band plays somewhat infrequently but are a visible presence in the Metro Detroit Rock scene. The most obvious thing is that the band is actually quite good. They will sound better to you even if you are a Doors fan. Morrison of course has jettisoned into pop culture fame and lore. This is another cult status band. The Detroit Doors however matches the band note per note but actually look nothing like them on stage. That’s not necessarily a requirement but I don’t know constitutes them as being a “Detroit” experience. Morrison and the boys played here in Cobo Hall back in the day but only once…. Maybe twice. Other than that I don’t get the “Detroit” reference.

The lead singer dressed in black and white striped suits that look like Footlocker uniforms. And with his long curly moppy hair he kind of looks like Beetlejuice up there hobbling around.  Still, it’s hard to take your eyes off of them because they are quite good. Some of the dance moves are not true Morrison inventions. Other times he wears leather pants and artistic looking garb. They are not the traditional white long sleeve poet shirts and brown leather pants that he was known for.

There is one strange “swan dive” thing that comes up in every performance that I cannot quite identify. Still, if you can manage to find them – number one – because they do play infrequently – and can manage the pilgrimage…. (they tend to play in Canada too for some weird reason)…. Then it would be well worth your time.

That is of course if you are a fan.

Looking back on, “Looking Back” I don’t remember too much. I actually fell asleep during a performance. They were good but you have to be a real fan to appreciate these guys. They were doing a great tribute show in Highland a couple of years ago. The band is very active and can be found playing just about every weekend.

The drummer actually does another stint as a drummer in a Judas Priest band in the D. I caught their show and I definitely did not fall asleep. My ears were assaulted and I was wide awake. The lead singer is bald and does this Rob Halford imitation that is actually pretty good. He doesn’t really look like  him but he is loud, bald and angry. That’s good enough isn’t it?

If you like Kiss, and there are plenty of people who do, you are going to love Alive Rock City. These guys are incredibly talented and can play the songs note per note. They even have some pretty impressive stage props during the show and engage with the audience and it is a lot of fun seeing them do the 1970’s makeup with the armor etc. It’s a fun band and brings back the energy of those shows.

From a pop culture stand point it was pretty weird and kinda funny to see them double as roadies for their own gear. You got these guys walking around in full make up carrying amps and mics in between band changes and so on. It’s entertaining but it’s also very strange. It’s a good strange, we’ll leave it at that.

I gotta say that out of all of these characters my favorite might be the Ozzy Tribute Band. As a kid I was terrified of Ozzy and everything he represented because the media scared the shit outta me. I grew up in the early 80’s and went to a Catholic day school so you get the picture. Now as an adult I say let it rip and these guys do. Its loud and entertaining and again these guys play the old classics note per note. I got a chance to joke around with the band too in the green room at one of their gigs. These are a great group of fellas with a heavy sound. It’s very impressive.

The story is all in the title. It’s an all girl band and it’s all Ramones songs. This band is not without star power. The group has Colleen Caffeine in it from the Detroit standard rock staple Choking Susan. They burn through the classic Ramones catalog at blinding speed.

In the green room you hear all kinds of goofy stories…. And who knows, some of them could be true. But the one that sticks out in my memory is the time some Livonia, Michigan bar hired an Iron Maiden cover band from Detroit, ( I didn’t even know we had one ) and a Beatles Detroit band, ( again… no idea that there even was one…. ) and booked them both together on a Wednesday afternoon around 4pm, ( Who does this ?) and then proceeded to have all  of their speakers blown out. This sounded so hilarious to me because the guys who frequent these old men bars are well…. Old men. What must they be thinking to see an Iron Maiden and a Beatles tribute band take the stage and wreck that kind of havoc? The other question I have is who the hell booked that show? My God, it sounds insane.

During the winter months I got this thing on my Facebook wall about a WHO Tribute band and get this… they actually did the epic rock album, “Quadrophenia” in Detroit in some small pub. Now for curiosities sake and just a plain….  “Oh I don’t believe it….” Kinda attitude I was going to go down there and check them out because that is a very ambitious project. Quadrophenia is powerful and something you definitely don’t plan to do in a pub. The night they were going to do it we had this outrageous snow and ice storm in Metro Detroit. I think the temperature was something like 30 below. I didn’t feel like risking my life but I heard the show went on and people actually showed up.

I am not knocking these bands in any way. I think what they are doing is fantastic. There are plenty of chances now to see the kind of music that is popular or that you grew up with in a bar setting. I can remember sitting in Ricks Café in Ann Arbor and having to listen to Seals and Crofts covers and wishing I could be rocking out to a Smiths cover band. But the year was 1988 and I just hadn’t earned it yet baby.

Other nights I like to see some original music just to balance out my senses. On those nights I am glad for guys like Rick Ruiner from the Ruiners who actually lights his freaking leg on fire for the hell of it. That takes a certain kind of dedication and commitment. So now I am just trying to put this all into some sort of context. While I was gone in Chicago and in NYC there was some sort of amazing indy movement here with the White Stripes….only I missed it. Cause by the time I got here they had migrated off to Hollywood and got signed to a major label. The footage I see of them playing in small Detroit clubs is now a thing of legend and the music scene has opened its arms to a retro style night life.

When I look at that amazing footage I cannot help but think about that tiny window of time…. And in that time… something almost miraculous occurred. So, why isn’t that happening now?

When I put it all together it doesn’t make any sense to me. This is Detroit the home of originality and the Motown movement and home to many unique personalities. Why is there this sudden urge to be other people?

Is it because we are afraid to be ourselves? Is it because we lack confidence…. Or is it because we truly enjoy being other people?

I’m looking for original MOJO myself….  Easy on the fusion …. Just original sounds.

LIVE THE WHO - Experience THE GREATEST Rock Tribute Band In Detroit !!

RIK MAYALL: Young Ones - British Comedian Actor Passes Away - June 9, 2014

The Young Ones - This cult BBC show featured 4 unruly youths living under one roof with unpredictable circumstances. They also featured top musical acts of its day like Madness, Motorhead, The Damned and Ten Below Zero.
Here is another clip of the boys on, "University Challenge" - the results were always chaotic, surreal and a bit insane.
This is the comedy rock album, "Bad News". This concept pre-dated the American comedy release, "This is Spinal Tap" (1984) by one year. The group Bad News was featured on the British show, "The Comic Strip" in 1983.
Bad News takes the classic Queen song, "Bohemian Rhapsody" and makes it even that much more memorable....
Madness makes an appearance during a well timed.... riot.

REMEMBERING COMEDIAN RIK MAYALL: Comedy Actor Passes Away June 2014 - Rik Mayall Tribute >>>>

Detroit Goes Retro Rock In Its Music Scene and Time Completely Stops - Covering Whats New
and Old In Detroit

Ted Cantu
June 2014  -- HOT METRO FINDS

“A VISUAL ASSAULT: REM Dissected Scene By Scene

The bottom video was shot in 1989 and is the closest thing I could find to what the original show opener was like in 1987. This was a departure for REM as much as it was for the audience. Just when you thought you knew the band they changed on you in a new and exciting way. It would take some time to recognize them once again. In the case of, “Document” the album had to grow on me. I noticed this sort of thing happening with the Smiths too.

There was one sequence in the video, not shown in this edition, when the words – “Want” and “Need” come on screen. The words flipped interchangeably and morphed into a strobe that said, “Need Weed” and I remember the crowd going a bit wild over that. This was Ann Arbor after all. There is some talk about the set list being accurate. I do not believe, “Orange Crush” or “Pop Song 89” was performed in 1987. Those songs were released after REM went to Warner Brothers. “Document” was the last album created under the I.R.S. Records label.

There is another version of, “The One I Love” done on the live tour. Stipe starts out with a slow intro and for a minute I thought the whole song would be done slow. It then kicks into the tempo we all know. The stage was also bathed in an eerie red light. How this song got perceived as a love song I’ll never know. It was about a sick love obsession.

Over the years I hear the young kids go, “Oh who cares about that stuff, REM was long before my time.” Trust me, you wish you were there. This show was nothing but historic.



Read about it here....

REM in 1987 and the Birth of Alternative Radio in Ann Arbor, Michigan - Crisler Arena >>>>

Read About The Birth Of Alternative Radio - 1987 and the Influence of REM

Online Right Now.....


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