Sometimes the 21st century makes me feel like I’m living in a fantasy world. It’s as if any band that my 16-year-old or 20-year-old or 30-year-old self could have ever wanted to see play live but for some reason or another didn’t is now back in circulation. We are living in an age when no one is ever too old to live past glories; if Beatles and Stones can still rock than so can anybody.
But I truly never thought I’d ever live to see The Gories play their minimalist grafting of “Rocket 88” R&B, backwoods blues and greasy garage stuff. When I first heard the Detroit trio’s records nearly 20 years ago, it seemed primordial then, like the divine had settled on a blueprint for rock & roll after all that had passed between 1955 and 1985. Mick Collins seemed like a street punk hybrid of Ike Turner and Iggy Stooge, while his cohort, Dan Kroha, was bred on Chess and Sun 45s. Meanwhile drummer Peg O’Neil could have easily been Moe Tucker’s offspring. The two albums and smattering of singles the trio made between 1986 and 1993 cumulatively defined hep, negating the previous decades and neutering the au current indie rock of the ’90s. As such, it seemed impossible that this band could ever resurface, as surely they were just a brilliant, visceral flash in the pan. Hell, I was surprised when Collins and Kroha went on to do anything more than settle into Motor City lore.
But lo and behold, to my amazement, after Saturday’s show, I’ve now seen The Gories do their thing threefold. And each time has been better than the last, as if they’ve picked up where they left off to become meaner and leaner. This time, they started with the obvious (“Hey, Hey We’re The Gories”), but as they announced, tonight’s performance delved into lesser known cuts from singles and comps. As such, we heard their wooly version of The Keggs’ “To Find Out” (included on Crypt’s Back from the Grave, Volume 2) and “You Little Nothing,” which showed off Kroha’s wily vocals. That same approach, with Dan taking lead instead of Mick, made “I Think I’ve Had It” standout early on too.
Still, it was the combination of Collins’ tenor and the thumping hipshake on the band’s best known tracks that proved to be the highlights. It is hard to think of a cut more pure in its intent than “Feral,” a near-perfect dissertation on the evils of the fairer sex, while the potency of “Sovereignty Flight” has never been measured by its number of chords. While the band joked about its lack of skill and even still managed to start a song in different keys from one another, it’s always been the manner in which it tapped into R&R’s central nervous system that defined them. No matter the number of magazines devoted to fancy gear and technical proficiency claiming ties to rock & roll or the museums built in its honor, the music in which The Gories were interested was always scraped together in some back alley room in Memphis or an abandoned shack in Detroit. They’ve no doubt come a long from their beginnings, but as songs like “Thunderbird ESQ” and “Nitroglycerin” made clear, The Gories can never be more than what they began as. And shit that was cool.