Gene Simmons once instructed us to get up and more importantly, get down, in Detroit Rock City. It turns out we don’t have to “shlep” all the way to Detroit to have a good time, because the Detroit Cobras gladly offered up a solid rock show, sans the leather and makeup, at the Black Cat last Sunday. After recently attending the live performances of Wilco and the Black Keys, I have to admit it had been a while since I had gotten down with my bad self, but as the Cobras started their rowdy and delightfully irreverent set, I found myself bobbing my head with the best of them.
The Black Cat advertised the band like this on their Web site: “Remember when you were still a shy college sophomore and lived next door to a bunch of loud seniors? Who you were too scared to talk too, let alone hang out with, even though they had a party like every night? Well, those seniors grew up into the Detroit Cobras.”
Lead singer Rachel Nagy and lead guitarist Mary Ramirez play up to this persona on stage: guzzling beer, chain smoking cigarettes and muttering curse words under their breath. As a not-so-shy college junior, I’d still be afraid to party with them.
After they swaggered on stage, they launched into their set, which seemed to be made up as they went along. In the awkward pause before the next song played, each member of the band would alternate who would select the next song. Then, with a guitar riff or a “1, 2, 3, 4” on the drums, the chaos of that awkward stage time would end, and magically all five of the Cobras would sync up, belting out their gospel, bluesy garage band rock.
Clearly sprinters, or they would be if it weren’t for all those cigarettes, the Cobras songs took the form of short bursts of energy, as though playing for longer than two minutes and 24 seconds was not an option. From covers of “Let’s do the Twist” to Otis Redding standards, from the deliciously, ironically-titled “Hot Dog” to gospel (referred to as the sanctified portion of the show) the Cobras performed a whirlwind of a rock show.
Rachel Nagy credits her upbringing in Detroit’s diverse musical heritage and the time spent at the local Baptist church for her love of Motown and gospel. “I got a lot of soul for a blonde,” Nagy joked as she lit her eighth cigarette in one hour. Indeed, the gospel-infused second half of the show together with Nagy’s deep, sultry voice was the most unexpected and enjoyable of their whole off-the-cuff set.
On the road promoting their current album, “Baby,” and paving the way for their soon to be released album, the Detroit Cobras have come along way from home. But despite the distance, they carry their Detroit roots with them to humbly share the spirit of a music scene that inspired musicians from Motown to KISS.