Saturday, June 13, 2009
Pacing around like a just released wild animal that has been caged, prodded and experimented on far too long, Alison Mosshart cuts an imposing and intense figure on stage. Mosshart, currently performing under the absolutely fitting stage name of Baby Ruthless, is one of those rare figures who appear every ten years or so who is absolutely been made for rock n’ roll. With her long black hair often covering her eyes, the chain smoking and wailing Mosshart belongs to the music in the way that the most legendary figures have in the past, from Elvis to Keith Richards to Patti Smith….rock n’ roll is obviously coursing through Alison's veins and it is impossible to imagine her doing anything else.
The unforgettable Allison Mosshart first appeared on the scene in the early part of the decade with the impressive The Kills. I’ll never forget the first time I heard her voice around 2002 in an independent Detroit record store that was blaring The Kills debut EP throughout their store. I was convinced the voice belonged to some lomg lost figure from the mid seventies New York punk movement, and I was stunned to hear that it was someone who had just appeared on the scene…by way of London, via Florida, no less.
Mosshart, or Baby Ruthless, is far from being on every music lover’s radar right now, but that should change soon thanks to The Dead Weather, the band she has recently formed with Jack White. I was fortunate enough to see the soon to be legendary new band in just their fourth show ever as a unit the other night at Louisville’s Coyotes at City Block Club…a shitty sports bar with bad sound, no air conditioning and no organization to speak of. The miserable conditions caused a hellish atmosphere for Kelley and I, as well as the rest of the audience, so it wasn’t a surprise that several fist fights broke out during the show. Oddly the oppressive and quite miserable feeling added to the intense and dark chaos The Dead Weather presented on stage.
The Dead Weather took the stage around 9:30 to the already exhausted from the heat and sweat covered audience of 1,500 or so. Those who expected to see the new Jack White Show might have been disappointed, as this is Mosshart’s moment all the way. White seems more than happy to step slightly back from the spotlight, and his place behind the drums for the evening was a commanding and powerful one. Equally stunning was the savage guitar work of former Raconteur and Queens of the Stone Age axe-man Dean Fertita, whose guitar, keyboard and moog work gave the band a primal, almost acid rock, feel throughout the night. Completing the group is another Raconteur, bassist Little Jack Lawrence, who stands as a calming presence to the madness surrounding him on stage.
The Dead Weather’s set was a fairly short one. With only two singles on the street, and just one album (the soon to be released Horehound) in the can, the band doesn’t have a lot to work with at this point. What they do have is explosive stuff though, and it is the most savage and chaotic music White has presented yet. It is also the most passionate, with every song feeling like it cuts directly to the bone. There is nothing easy about The Dead Weather…they are challenging, in your face and seem like they could self destruct at any moment, so it will be interesting to see how long they will last, and what kind of acceptance (or non-acceptance) they will get in this unbelievably sanitized music world we currently find ourselves in.
Highlights from the short but brutal set included the singles “Hang You From The Heavens” and “Treat Me Like Your Mother”, both of which Alison delivered with the kind of fiery conviction rarely heard these days. White stepped away from the drums just once to play the guitar and duet with Mosshart on the spectacular “Will There Be Enough Water”. The two are positively electric together with Alison staring him down through the song like they are some sort of demonic version of Johnny and June Cash.
The set ended with the band’s absolutely ferocious retelling of Bob Dylan’s tragically underrated “New Pony”. As someone who has been a self confessed Street Legal addict since I first heard it a dozen years ago or so, it was incredible seeing this band cover one of its key tracks. Most of the underage audience were probably clueless that it was a Dylan song, but Mosshart’s screams about a pony named Lucifer surely sent shock waves through everyone in attendance. Dylan’s mesmerizing and mysterious line, “How much longer?” become positively threatening as the entire band joined in and chanted it to the absolutely physically drenched and emotionally pounded audience. All of us were simply blown away by a force, we couldn’t quite name but couldn’t hope to escape from, as they exited the stage.
The Dead Weather were astonishing, and since they are such a new group I can’t even begin to comprehend how much better they are going to get. Most attending their shows right now will be going to see Jack White, but it will be Alison Mosshart who will haunt their dreams or, perhaps more fittingly, come at them in their nightmares. Rock n’ Roll used to produce certifiable bad asses all the time, but sometime in the mid eighties that trend ended. Bleeding talent and passion like few of her peers, Alison Mosshart is a throwback in the best way…long may she roar and don’t you dare miss her if The Dead Weather come anywhere near your town in the next few months.