Photos by K.D. Bodnar. Do not share or use the photos elsewhere without permission.
On the Weeknight Brutality Scale (WBS), Monday nights fall just short of Sundays and just above Tuesdays as the worst night of the week to play or go out. But sometimes a record just grabs ya by the privates, drags you out to the garage, puts you behind the wheel, and sends you down Woodward Avenue to get out for some rock. That’s what happened to me. I really liked the last Ex Hex record Rips, but the new one – It’s Real – really sunk its claws in deep. It’s got all the hooks and guitars and clever songwriting, but all notched up into what is so-far my album of the year. I wasn’t going to miss the show, even after one bud bailed (out of town with wife), then another (too much going on), then another (“Gotta pass, man.”).
There was a good Monday night crowd at The Loving Touch, a one-time massage parlour converted into a great music venue in a hip suburb just north of Detroit, for Moaning’s direct support set. We did our best to stay engaged, but the mix was muddy, reducing the bass to low-end sludge and too dominant a presence in the sound. There were some interesting reverb-drenched Tele licks here and there, but it was a bit shoe-gazey and just didn’t keep our attention. Sorry guys. Come back to Detroit and we’ll give ya another chance.
Ex Hex came out looking every bit the part in leather and spandex pants and line checked their Gibsons, Fenders, and Koll guitars. I hadn’t even heard a note but I loved them already and was feeling the sting of regret about missing their past Detroit shows. A few minutes later the lights went down and “Breakin’ The Law” by Judas Priest played over the PA. What followed was an hour of smart and hooky pop-punk-surf-metal (heavy on the pop-punk, light on the surf-metal) that sounded familiar and consistent, but kept reinventing itself throughout the set. Singer Mary Timony (Ex-Helium) led the way, providing vocals on most of the songs and playing most of the leads, but Betsy Wright stepped in to break it up a bit every few songs with some different vocal flavors and some solos that fell just on the other side of KK Downing. Laura Harris laid down a powerful and steady back-beat and lended a beautiful layer to the harmonies that give them such a great, deep sound. Touring bassist David Christian stood back and stayed in the pocket, but wasn’t disengaged or reduced to a hired-gun role on stage. Just when you started to think it was getting a little samey, they pulled it back to a slow roll for a song, teamed up for some killer guitarmonies, incorporated some unexpected slap-back effects, or pulled out the Flying V for some heavy riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Holy Diver outtake.
It’s probably not PC to say, but I love women-led bands. Always have. Juliana Hatfield, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, The Avengers, Bangles, The Go-Go’s, and more recently Best Coast, Bleached, The Muncie Girls, and Ex Hex. There’s an element to the female voice that adds a deeper layer to the “pop” in power-pop, a distinction that magnifies even further the dichotomy between melodic vocal lines and layered harmonies and loud, overdriven guitars that define the genre. Ex Hex have it down – a REAL rock show that was every bit as raw and dirty as it was melodic and beautiful. As good as this record is and that show was, I can’t wait to see what they do next.
You Fell Apart
How You Got That Girl
Don't Wanna Lose
Jeremy Porter lives near Detroit and fronts the rock and roll band Jeremy Porter And The Tucos - www.thetucos.com
Follow them on Facebook to read his road blog about their adventures on the dive-bar circuit -