It’s the End of the World as We Know It

The Dirtbombs’ apocalyptic awesomeness.

Few things make me happier than seeing musicians put aside past conflicts, so it was pure joy to see former Radio Nationals front man Jared Clifton reunited with his former bandmates on the stage of the Sunset last Sunday. Though their regrouping was only temporary, their obvious euphoria and the fact that the room was almost at capacity just left me wondering why they can't get it together and make things permanent. Either way, seeing Clifton grinning so broadly and the whole band playing as if not a day had passed was one of the highlights of an unusually show-packed Sunday. While the spastic, neo-hippie collective Dark Meat was raising the roof and shooting confetti all over the Comet on Capitol Hill, there was a less chaotic but equally devoted and sizable crowd taking in Kelly Stoltz's widely anticipated set over at the High Dive. The San Francisco pop savant had plenty of support from his Sub Pop family, with big cheese Jonathan Poneman nodding appreciatively along with Kinski's Chris Martin and Mudhoney's Mark Arm, while SP sales maven Dean Whitmore held down drumming duties. As beautifully arranged and embellished as Stoltz' compositions are on record, his live show is even more compelling, with all the details—from ghostly squiggles of theremin to brightly ringing keys—fleshed out. Stoltz was fresh off a string of dates with the Dirtbombs, the Detroit-based, soul-driven rock band that easily belongs in that winners' circle of "Best Live Band Around" artists like the Hold Steady, Arcade Fire, or the Drive-By Truckers. Seattle gets to experience Mick Collins' sweat-soaked spectacle this Tuesday, May 13 when he plays Neumo's. Collins and his crew (rumble-ready bassists Ko Melina and Troy Gregory and crack drumming duo Ben Blackwell and Pat Pantano) have been touring for almost two months nonstop in the wake of releasing We Have You Surrounded (In the Red), quite possibly their most ambitious and artfully conceived work to date. "I'm in Detroit now, but just to do laundry," laughs Collins when I reach him via phone. "We've been to New Zealand and Australia, and we're heading to Europe later," he explains. Originally envisioned as a short-lived outfit that would only produce 7-inch singles and EPs, the Dirtbombs' rigorous touring schedule and growing body of work is testament to the loyalty of their fan base and Collins' mysterious underestimation of his creative grasp. "I had some things I wanted to do for a couple of years," says Collins, referring to his initially modest ambitions. "But the crowds started getting bigger." Though he would likely dismiss any description of his work beyond "rock 'n' roll," the draw of the Dirtbombs is more than the surface-level thrill of a high-volume rhythm section and Collins' signature fuzz-toned guitar. He's clearly an incredibly smart man with a lot on his mind, and in the case of We Have You Surrounded, it's the warm glow of the apocalypse. "It's not so much a concept record as it is a theme—political alienation and urban paranoia," affirms Collins matter-of-factly. Technology will eat itself (and perhaps us) on "Wreck My Flow," and the dread and anxiety that fuel the eight-minute noise freakout "Race to the Bottom" are naturally unsettling symptoms of life during Bush-ruled wartime. Even the Dirtbombs' reliable finesse with covers and collaboration reflects that energy: Dead Moon's "Fire in the Western World" is a bleak look at environmental decay, while "Leopard Man at C&A" is a dour end-of-the world epic forged with the help of famed comic book author Alan Moore. The latter makes even more sense when conversation with Collins turns to his favorite offstage pastime. "[When the Dirtbombs started] I just wanted to make enough money to go to comic book conventions," he says earnestly. "Our European booking agent is in the doghouse right now because he booked our dates over my favorite convention." I pity the soul foolish enough to stand between Collins and his obsessions, almost as much as I pity anyone who lumps the Dirtbombs into a narrow category like garage rock, which all too often happens, thanks to both geographical stereotypes and the lingering memory of Collins' first band, the Gories. The best part about the 'Bombs is that regardless of their subject matter or source material, there's no mistaking the fact that at their heart they always sound like no one else.

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