Doin’ the loosen up at Old I

Last Thursday, I ran into Grub Dog at Nationwide Freezer Meats, then we cut over to The Beat to look for something by this week’s appointed saviors of all things rock ’n’ roll. Hype never stops; there’s a seemingly endless parade of acts willing to prostrate themselves for coveted major-label deals, and there are plenty of palace scribes who will deliver the requisite fictional imprimatur of greatness and, as a result, there’s always something new and cool to buy.

So it was a head-jerker when Grub said, “It’s been a lot more fun playing music since we gave up any idea of getting signed.” He picked up a jazz CD, looked at it, put it back down and continued to muse: “Yeah, I was talking with Skid Jones last night”—namechecking the terminally smart frontman of Magnolia Thunderfinger—“and he was saying pretty much the same thing.”

The next night provided the opportunity to see what Grub and Skid were talking about, as both their bands were playing at Old Ironsides.

The name “Grub Dog” may sound like an act you see playing Black Oak Arkansas covers at a Clamper beer bust. However, he and his band, the Amazing Sweethearts, are a freewheeling ensemble that sound more like something out of mid-’80s Minneapolis, recalling such great combos as the Replacements and (pre-Winona Ryder) Soul Asylum, along with more recent acts like Whiskeytown. Grub’s a damned good songwriter, too, perhaps the closest thing we have to the Replacements’ Paul Westerberg. As the opening act, the quintet set a tone for the evening that was loose and passionate, coming apart at the seams like the better moments on the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street.

Red Star Memorial followed. If the Sweethearts echoed Minneapolis, Red Star was pure Clovis, New Mexico, circa 1957. Dunno if singer Bobby Jordan has a thing for Buddy Holly—no one in the four-piece was sporting horn-rimmed glasses, but everyone was wearing a suit—but Jordan’s tunes were rooted in the kind of amped-up country with a pop and blues subtext that Holly worked to perfection. To be honest, not all his songs hit the mark, and because of that it seemed like a long set. Perhaps it was merely a case of juxtaposition; the kind of tight inside pop moves that work on a bill with the Decibels aren’t as effective when positioned between two bands with looser, louder post-1970s approaches.

By the time Magnolia Thunderfinger appeared, the crowd had changed; some of the band’s hard-partying fans know better than to waste their time checking out any opening acts. And, if we’re typecasting these bands by place, the Finger is from Anytown, U.S.A.—Rockford, Ill., the Jersey shore, Pasadena, Macon, Ga., or any other place where rock ’n’ roll is the preferred soundtrack for trouble. You could tell they didn’t give a shit about impressing any major-label scouts who may have been lurking about. Been there, done that. Which is to say that the Finger might be onto something.