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The Dirtbombs Stranglehold: The Dirtbombs represent Detroit to the fullest.

Motor City Madmen

With two drummers and one cool frontman, the Dirtbombs propel garage rock back to the future

By Traci Vogel

MICK COLLINS IS so cool, even his name sounds like a cocktail drink tribute to the Rolling Stones. The frontman for Detroit garage-punk band the Dirtbombs has variously been described as a mod, a punk and James Brown with an indie backup band, but one thing is for sure--he loves music, he breathes music, so much so that his skill at rock & roll arrangement (some might say derangement) is like James Brown's skill with a yawp: un-de-ni-able.

The Dirtbombs have been an official Detroit band, with evolving lineups, for nearly a decade, and a persistent regional rumor for years more before that. Collins' ambitious love of projects means that he always has a handful of bands going, each one of which has its own personality, from funk to punk to R&B to techno concept.

That the Dirtbombs are currently the most high-profile of these projects might be due, some critics have intimated, to industry coattailing of crazily trendy fellow Detroiters the White Stripes (the two bands released a split 7-incher in 2000 and are good friends), combined with the indie vogue for garage rock, but who really cares what spawned the band's sudden shot to the top? The Dirtbombs are for real, and they can prove it.

Oh, wait--they already did. The release last year of Ultraglide in Black, on In the Red records, testified loud and clear (and did I say loud?). Ultraglide in Black is a collection of roughed-up, well-chosen covers and one original tune by Collins. Not just one but two drummers lend the band a sonic backbone of hubbub, and the guitars (Collins plays lead, with Jim Diamond on electric bass) are often completely fuzzed out.

The album rocks long, hard and across the timbre of stereophonics. There is one moment of perfect feedback, on the track "Your Love Belongs Under a Rock," when the amp's screech and the lyrics line up in what must be a calculated coincidence--the kind of calculated coincidence that makes a listener grin, turn it up a notch and relax into the hands of sure-thing talent.

But the big audio star of Ultraglide is the voice of Mick Collins. Raised on Marvin Gaye and the New York Dolls both, Collins can go from a pained blues/punk wail in a song like "Chains of Love" to the silky seduction of Barry White's "I'm Qualified to Satisfy You" as nonchalantly as if he's just shaking for change in his pocket.

He has the nerve to cover George Clinton ("I'll Wait"), Stevie Wonder ("Livin' for the City) and Curtis Mayfield ("Kung Fu"), and he makes every song his own. Partly, again, this is his genius for arrangement, but partly it reflects Collins' 15-odd years of fronting punks acts like Blacktop, Kind Sound Quartet, the Screws and, most notoriously, the Gories.

The creed of the Gories--the unpunklike belief that if you make it danceable, they will come--beats in the Dirtbombs, too, but the intervening years have allowed Collins' experimentation to find surer footing. The Gories formed in 1986, lasted nearly a decade and went down in the punk record for playing a style often described as "primitive." Although Collins constantly claims in interviews that he still "only knows two chords," the musicianship in the Dirtbombs is tight enough to send Collins' false modesty out the nearest club-room window.

Complaints have been made that the garage rock that's so popular right now--the White Stripes, the Strokes, the Vines--is derivative, that it isn't original. Maybe that's true, but Mick Collins is surely an original talent, and one other thing is sure: you're bound to find yourself nodding along when the blast of the Dirtbombs' two drummers and one smooth operator detonates.

The Dirtbombs, The Detroit Cobras and KO & the Knockouts appear Tuesday (Oct. 8) at 8pm at Bimbo's 365 Club, 1025 Columbus Ave., San Francisco. Tickets are $15 (www.ticketweb.com).

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From the October 3-9, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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