The Von Bondies : WC2 Astoria, London, Tuesday, August 31

The Von Bondies : WC2 Astoria, London, Tuesday, August 31

Uh-oh, it looks like the Detroit rockers are one girl down after tonight…

It’s like a pissed-up gang fight at a [a]Blanche[/a] gig. CRUNCH! Filthy, booze-sweating guitars pin you to the wall, spitting hot gobs of blues riffage in your eyeballs. SMACK! Drums like Gary Glitter banging on his cell door batter you repeatedly about the head until it swells like a gore-spattered basketball. STOMP! A bass the size of Godzilla stamps your testicles into sawdust. “WADDAFAHKYOULOOKINAHHTTTT!?!” A slurring, emotional drunk howls accusingly in your face about his disastrous love life. AAAAH-AAAHHH! Two siren voices swoop in as if to say, “Leave it Terry, ’eee’s not worf it!” It’s the average Von Bondies song and, like all the best beatings, it’s all over in under two minutes, leaving you bruised, bleeding and picking shreds of your arse out of the cracks in the sidewalk.

It’s all in the chemistry. Chuck a stick down Detroit’s 8 Mile and you’d hit a dozen nu-bloozzzzz preachers like Jason Stollsteimer, knee-dropping himself raw and caterwauling about The Agonies Of Luuuurve like a hyena mid-castration. Drag a net round Camden most afternoons and you’d land a thousand Manga punk bands like the one Carrie and Marcie mimic either side of him: Marcie rocking the high heels and pigtails ‘look’ that’s sold a million repackaged Tokyo schoolgirls’ knickers and Carrie boasting the bleached mullet of every 30-something’s secret Suzi Quatro wank fantasy. Like Ant without Dec or The Rasmus without a faceful of piss, they’re magical combined but pointless in isolation: without Jason’s lupine howls over ‘Tell Me What You See’ they’d be as passionless as a BRMC plastic fetish party; without Car’n’Mar’s black belts in the ancient Oriental Art of Deadpan Chanting we’d never know where the choruses were. Lose either and the VBs’ bar-brawl bluster would be as lame as a pillow-fight with the Scissor Sisters.

“Never mess with the formula,” the late great Joe Strummer once philosophised, not that that’s gonna happen, right? No, tonight they take switchblades to the nadgers of The Doubters. ‘No Regrets’ resembles Pocahontas being ritually slaughtered by T Rex; ‘Shallow Grave’ is like a wild prairie dog gatecrashing a New Orleans funeral; ‘Been Swank’ is The Creature From The Blues Lagoon dripping swampabilly seaweed; and ‘C’mon, C’mon’ rocks planets out of orbit. OK, there’s about eight or nine songs that could only be told apart with DNA testing and Jason still seems oblivious to the fact that the girls are 12 billion times sexier than even he thinks he is. But as Carrie coos out ‘Not That Social’ like a heavenly choir of Kim Deals, it seems that The Von Bondies have survived the brickbats and crazyfists, the internal struggles and external strifes, to emerge as 2004’s Great Garage Hope.

But what’s this? “Tonight is Carrie’s last gig with us,” says Jason and suddenly it’s a wake instead of a rebirth, Ant inking that solo deal behind Dec’s back. So The Von Bondies’ scars run deeper than we thought, and all is still rotten in the state of Michigan. Somewhere in the mausoleum of rock, Strummer is tutting and turning in his grave to see what the Libs are up to.

Mark Beaumont