Whatever really prompted last year's ugly little dust-up between Detroit scene-leaders Jack White and The Von Bondies' Jason Stollsteimer, the Bondies' new album, Pawn Shoppe Heart, does prove Stollsteimer's point about the shortcomings of his band's debut album.
Its predecessor, Lack of Communication, was recorded on the hoof and sounds like it, even if there's nothing really wrong with White's production. Produced by Jerry Harrison, though, Pawn gives the Bondies' archetypally Motor City-flavoured, psychobilly blues some proper rock heft and Sweet-ish swagger. The result is an album that sounds like a band truly flexing their muscles for the first time.
It's a considerable step up, and it's good to see that the press scuffle over the rumble in Detroit's jungle hasn't distracted too much attention from it. The leap is made clear from the off at the Bondies' ICA gig. They open up with the title track from their debut album and, while it's not bad, its Who-like clatter and rumble doesn't exactly set the joint alight. By the time they get to Pawn's down-and-dirty "Been Swank", though, they're really hitting their stride, its elephantine riffs and big, bass-driven blues undertow giving Stollsteimer ample room to bawl manfully on the vocals.
Indeed, Stollsteimer emotes fulsomely throughout the set, and the band play well to him. The snaky swamp blues of "Mairead" provides plenty of space for the more tremulous, Jack White-ish edge of his voice, while Pawn's cracking lead-off single, "C'mon C'mon", finds him howling with spleen aplenty over a tumble of sludge-rock guitars. Whatever damage Jack White did to Stollsteimer's eye, he clearly didn't do any damage to his voice, or cow him any. The man just can't keep a lid on it.
The Bondies are far from being just a one-man show, though. The singularly insouciant Carrie Smith (bass) and Marcie Bolen (guitars) make for a cool contrast with Stollsteimer, rather than merely anchoring him, and Smith provides some particularly fabulous respite from Stollsteimer's rampant soul-baring with her Kim Deal-ish vocals on the effortlessly catchy "Not That Social". On that track in particular, too, Don Blum's drumming gives the band's rock'n'roll primitivism a mighty big kick.
That said, there was a spark missing from tonight's show, probably due to a combination of the none-less-rock venue and the Bondies showing a little bit more of their influences - The Animals, MC5, The Gun Club - than their own voice as yet. It's a close thing, though, and if songs such as the invigoratingly stack-heeled, tribal-blues stomp of "No Regrets" and the busy call-and-response raunch-rock of "The Fever" are anything to go by, that'll change sooner rather than later. If Pawn is a strong bid for the big league, the Bondies' third album should really show what they're made of. And not, hopefully, in the bar-room brawling sense.Reuse content