Von Bondies: not quite Motor City madness

Despite its best efforts, Detroit act not called back for encore

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Von Bondies

Rock fans were treated to a lineup of Detroit-based talent, as the Von Bondies took the stage at Call the Office.

Anyone who has seen the opening credits to the television program “Rescue Me” with Denis Leary has received an informal introduction to the Von Bondies’ biggest hit “C’mon C’mon.”

The quintet combines garage rock and punk sounds with hints of soul. Considering the rich musical history of the Motor City, home to bands ranging from the White Stripes and MC5 to the Supremes, the combination is appropriate.

Openers and fellow Detroit natives SSM offered a distinct sound, bringing the groove back to garage rock. Lead singer John Szymanski manipulated his keyboard to produce psychedelic samplings. The trio set an upbeat mood, but failed to engage the sizable crowd on the frigid Tuesday night.

Pop/rock band Freer was next to take the stage and delivered in a more conventional manner. However, the quartet’s melodic sound didn’t mesh with its off-key delivery. Each song was connected to the next without pause, which gave the set a sense of repetition. As the second band, Freer created a lull in between more powerful performances.

There was little anticipation for the headlining set, but the Von Bondies drew an impressive crowd with its raw sound and energy. The band’s visual impact was, at first, the main attraction.

Jason Stollsteimer, the lanky lead singer, was flanked on either side by the striking Leann Banks and Alicia Gbur. The ladies were decked out in alternative takes on the little black dress and proved it is easy to look good and rock out.

The few loyal fans in the crowd thrashed receptively to favourites like “It Came from Japan.” The rest of the audience responded with appreciative toe-tapping and head-bobbing.

Unfortunately, the force of the guitars, bass and drums overwhelmed the lyrics so that they were nearly unintelligible. However, Stollsteimer and Gbur demonstrated their vocal abilities when the Von Bondies were pared down to just the duo to emphasize the band’s soul influences.

By the end of the set, the Von Bondies had the crowd surrounding the stage clapping its hands in the air to the beat. Yet, as soon as the set was done, the crowd dispersed without any demand for an encore.

The inconsistent response characterized the set. The force brought forward by the Von Bondies did not translate into feeling, just as the lyrics sung by Stollsteimer, with his sweaty, long hair stuck to his face, could not be heard by the crowd.

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