Ex-Hanoi Rocks lead singer Michael Monroe brought his tour behind a new solo album, the excellent Sensory Overdrive, to the Bowery Ballroom in New York City last Sunday night. For about an hour-and-a-half, it was like being transported in a time capsule back to 1977, when glam-rock was turning into punk-rock, when melody and high energy music fused together, all blazing brightly before burning out and crumbling into a million micro-genres.
At the Bowery Ballroom, Monroe was still looking as blonde as his namesake, that other Monroe named Marilyn. His Hanoi Rocks visage was stolen by other, more high visibility 1980s bands like Poison and Warrant, but Monroe’s musical vision, unlike what was heard from those visual copycats, was never watered down into power ballad pop.
No, Monroe is a true rock and roll believer, and as he launched into the New York Dolls-ish “Trick of the Wrist” with its survivor’s braggadocio (“I had a nasty habit/It didn’t work for me/I shook it off like an apple shakin’ out of the tree”), it seemed like a statement of intent for the rest of the evening.
The set was peppered with numbers from Sensory Overdrive, highlights of which were the anti-cell phone, anti-social and anti-social networking anthem “Modern Day Miracle” (“Shut up, stop talking/You’re giving me a headache!”), and the catchy new single “’78,” as in “You can take the boy out of ’78/But you can’t take ’78 out of the boy!” Monroe and his band spent the evening living up to that credo.
Throughout, Monroe was the ultimate rock frontman as he strutted, pranced and pouted around the stage like some ambisexual amalgam of ’70s-era Mick Jagger, David Johansen and Iggy Pop. He executed a flip at the end of the Dead Boys-like punk aggro of new number “Bombs Away” that landed him in the front row, emerging only slightly bloody and worse for the wear after accidentally bumping heads with an audience member.
Older numbers like the grinding punk rock of “Hammersmith Palais” got the Sunday night crowd singing along. A stellar cover of “Not Fakin’ It” (originally done by 1970s hard rockers Nazareth) showed Monroe and his crack band, which includes ex-New York Dolls guitar slinger Steve Conte and former Hanoi Rocks bassist Sami Yaffa, to be right at home in the nexus of hard rock, glam and punk rock, characteristic of a simpler musical time.
The new number “Superpowered Superfly” was another standout, its nostalgic, elegaic feel evoking another of Monroe’s major 1970s influences, Ian Hunter and Mott The Hoople.
“Dysfunctional” ironically threatened to become just that, as at the song’s end, the band tried to slow it down with a blues jam featuring the singer on harmonica, and just barely held it together while still sounding wonderfully greasy. Monroe himself wasn’t convinced by this journey off the beaten path: “It’s easy to mistake people’s expressions of awe for when they’re actually yawning,” he self-deprecatingly joked after the jam had lurched to a conclusion. The tempo then immediately picked back up, and by the end of the self-explanatory final number, “Dead, Jail, or Rock and Roll,” the crowd was roaring and sufficiently moved to bring the boys back for another go.
The encores were a trifecta of raunchy covers: “I Wanna Be Loved” was dedicated to the men who first performed it, the late Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan of the New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers, while the old Hanoi Rocks number “Taxi Driver” was dedicated to “all the wacked-out taxi drivers in New York City.” Both numbers rocked hard and gritty, the former enlivened by Monroe’s blues harp stylings.
Finally, the band launched into the sonic maelstrom of “1970 (I Feel Alright)” by The Stooges, which metamorphosed into one of this writer’s fave ‘70s classics, Golden Earring’s “Radar Love,” in the middle section.
As the band took its final bows and left the stage, the point had surely been made: if you’re looking for cutesy irony or experimental eclecticism, Michael Monroe is NOT your man.
But if you just want to rock your ass off, well, you can’t really do any better than this.
1. “Trick Of The Wrist”
2. “Got Blood?”
3. “Modern Day Miracle”
5. “Hammersmith Palais”
7. “Nothin’s Alright”
8. “Not Fakin’ It”.
9. “Superpowered Superfly”
10. “Bombs Away”
12. “Back To Mystery City”
13. “Malibu Beach Nightmare”
14. “Dead, Jail or Rock and Roll”
15. “I Wanna Be Loved”
16. “Taxi Driver”
17. “1970 (interpolates “Radar Love”)”