Dirtbombs : London Highbury Garage

It's better to pour beer over your head and capture the spirit rather than honour the sanctity of every note...

It’s a challenge. The Don Of Detroit has to deal with failing equipment, a guitarist who keeps asking the audience for cocaine, a shirt apparently tailored out of old mirrorballs, and the expectation that every band from his hometown have the power to save – or at least revitalise – rock’n’roll. What’s a guy to do? Change a routine he’s stuck with for nearly 20 years? Or enjoy his slightly confused moment in the London spotlight, championed as part of the new wave at an age when most people are hanging up their guitar for good?

Wisely, Mick Collins just opts to party. In the devastating wake of [a]White Stripes[/a], it’s plausible that any old bar band from Detroit could be hailed as cult heroes. But in fairness, The Dirtbombs are a very special old bar band.

Collins has been a garage rock figurehead back home for aeons, steering countless groups – notably The Gories – through times when few people cared whether this furious good-time music was being kept alive. The Dirtbombs, then, are his ragged-assed soul band, featuring Jim Diamond (the Detroit scene’s ubiquitous producer) on bass and two drummers – one of which is Ben Blackwell, Jack and Meg White’s enthusiastically flailing nephew.

Blackwell is a boy amongst broadly middle-aged men here. None of them, however, appear to have spent much time polishing their act. This is raw, messy, crash’n’burn dance music that doesn’t stand up to much analysis. It’s the punk rock carelessness of The Dirtbombs, however, that’s their saving grace. As they bludgeon their way through a selection of covers – Smokey Robinson’s ‘If You Can Want’, The O’Jays’ ‘Livin’ For The Weekend’, a terrific version of Sly Stone’s ‘Underdog’ – you realise that if they played with any caution or competence, they’d be little more than an excitable wedding band with unusually good taste.

Instead, they sound like [a]Hellacopters[/a] singing with a bunch of old lags kept vertical purely by the sustaining power of rock’n’roll. Only the cruellest hypemonger would suggest they’re the future of music – though we could, at a push, paint Collins as John The Baptist to Jack White’s one true saviour. But The Dirtbombs understand that to celebrate the past, it’s better to pour beer over your head and capture the spirit rather than honour the sanctity of every note. Simple, eh?

John Mulvey