White Shag was summarized to me as, “Queens of the Stone Age, but with a female singer,” on the ride over to the New Dodge in Hamtramck, Saturday night. I immediately and viscerally turned up my nose; I am unapologetically particular when it comes to female vocalists in general, but especially female rock vocalists, as the handful of popular female-fronted bands that spring to mind, like Heart and The Go-Go’s with their saccharine, pristine tone tend to make my neo-hippie skin crawl. Plus, my opinion of Queens of the Stone Age can only be described as one of aloof disinterest. My tanked hopes for the evening were only compounded by the barely breathing and cavernous New Dodge, with it’s cathedral ceilings ominously lowering 19th century chandeliers and omnipresent, pitchy walnut coating every surface. It had an antiqued moodiness I normally clamor for, but paired with the paltry crowd, it made for a brooding atmosphere.
White Shag instantly and thankfully changed the morose and looming aura to one of unadulterated rock and roll spirit I so lust for on a Saturday night, with their fistfuls-of-energy, over-sexed, straight-on rock music. The band’s core members consist of Laura Mendoza, on bass and lead vocals, and Jorge Cortez on lead/rhythm guitar and vocals with special guest drummer Evan Hakim, from The Fake Take, rounding out the three-piece. They sounded remarkably tight for having only played together for just under six hours; Hakim’s wild, emphatic banging fit so seamlessly into the tunes, like they’d been playing together for years. But it was the vivacious and captivating firecracker, Mendoza, that erected my dwindling attention. She strutted and high-kicked her way around the lackluster stage in between cool R & B-inspired bass grooves and raw, deep cackles that Janis herself would have howled had she lived long enough to go glam. Mendoza’s voice has the unrestrained sexual intensity of Fiona Apple with the kick-ass pop attitude of Veruca Salt’s Louise Post. Obviously influenced by the late 60′s/early 70′s proto-punk scene, like the Stooges or MC5, yet there was a detectable 90′s alt rock/grunge vein, that I’ve grown so nostalgic for, running through the songs. I did get that hint of Queens of the Stone Age, but Cortez’ wailing psychedelic-tinged guitar solos and novel high-part harmonies to Mendoza’s lows made it more than palatable. Undoubtedly, Mendoza stole the set with her coarse, organic vocals, wide, expressive eyes, and Mick Jagger meets late 80′s Sunset Strip-per stage presence. I found myself thinking how they could just as easily be playing Late Night as the New Dodge; they have a commercial appeal without the pandering or selling out. It’s bands like the raucous, fervent White Shag that could go a long way to restoring female-fronted band’s street cred.
Post Script: As is the way with bands, members tend to come and go on a blithely regular basis, but White Shag has cleverly decided to turn their search for a new drummer into an event. Four finalists will be competing in a drum-off this Tuesday, November 8th at uDetroit Cafe at 8:00 PM. The audience will get to cast their vote after the performances and White Shag will determine the winner to be announced at the end of the show.