I went to see The Detroit Cobras at Slim’s in San Francisco. They have been around for nearly 20 years and have made a career of covering oldies in a garage rock style. I don’t think it would be right to call them a cover band though. They make the songs their own. Their versions of the songs generally stay pretty true to the originals when it comes to the vocals and overall feel of the song but add more of a rocking element. They come from the same Detroit music scene that gave us The White Stripes and Electric Six. The opening band was Pangea, who are a punk band from LA that is relatively new to the music scene and play the majority of their shows around California. I had seen them open for Those Darlins not long ago and came away impressed. When I saw they were added as the openers to this show I was excited to get to see them again.
When I saw Pangea previously I found it interesting lead vocalist and guitarist William Keegan was positioned on the left side of the stage with bassist Danny Bengston in the center. At this show Keegan was at the center of the stage and gave off more of a front man aura. They kicked off the show with “No Feelin” the first track from their most recent full length album Living Dummy. On this song in particular you get a good taste of what I would describe as Keegan’s Cobainesque vocals and screams. Through out the show they stuck to mostly songs from the Living Dummy album. One thing that stood out to me is the band seemed more serious than the last time I saw them. They traded spilled beers around the stage for upright water bottles and had a tighter sound. As the show went on the crowd made it was closer to the stage and seemed to be really enjoying the band. Right around the middle of the set there were two moments that stood out to me. One was Keenan climbing down off the stage and playing guitar in the crowd. It was a fun moment of interaction between him and fans. The second was when they played a cover of “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes. I knew I would be seeing a lot of oldies covers that night but expected them all to be from the Detroit Cobras. Their rendition of the song was a strong mix of the original’s mood and melody and of their personal style. While they continued through their performance I couldn’t help but be reminded of Nirvana, specifically the Incesticide album. They closed the show with “River” from their new EP Killer Dreams. I could easily see this song being a big hit on the radio. The EP has a more polished sound while staying true to the feeling of their other work. Closing their set with the song goes right along with the growth I can see in them since the last time I saw them just five months ago.
The Detroit Cobras took the stage and opened up with “Cha Cha Twist”. The Cobras are the type of band that when you see them you want to throw back some drinks, dance, sing a long and have a good time. This upbeat fun song is a good representation of most of their catalog. As I watched them perform a range of songs from most of their releases it was very reminiscent of when I saw them in Chicago eight years ago. They have stuck to pretty much the same successful formula through out their career. Their sound translates well to their live performances. If you are going to see them, expect a good time and a sound that is a mix of garage rock and punk. The crowd was enjoying the show and a good portion of it were singing a long the entire time. However the repeated line “Yaki Taki Oowah” from the song “Right Around the Corner” really got the crowd into it and it seemed like the entire place was singing a long. Another highlight was when the band took a break from the more up tempo songs and played the slow doo wop sounding “Cry On” with the crowd still singing a long. About half through the show original members, vocalist Rachel Nagy and guitarist Mary Ramirez, decided to participate in the party atmosphere they created and did a shot of tequila together to the cheers of the crowd. They also played the song that got me into them, the mid tempo “Midnight Blues”. They played their sole original tune, the whimsical “Hot Dog (watch me eat it)” and gave the crowd an earful of their own form of rocking oldies the rest of the night.
I always enjoy seeing two good bands that I think highly of together and that is what I got with this show. They both could be categorized as garage rock and they both put on a strong show. Pangea is on the way up and seems like they’ll be making a good career of this for themselves. The Detroit Cobras have already made a successful career for themselves and are still going as strong as ever. I’m sure this tour won’t be the last these two bands see of each other, and hopefully it won’t be the last time I see them either.
Photo gallery from The Detroit Cobras:
Photo gallery from Pangea: