By Noah Hubbell
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Lots of bands tout the virtues of the MC5 and the Stooges these days, but few are as dedicated to these Detroit-reared punk godfathers as Los Angeles's Streetwalkin' Cheetahs. For proof, one need only cue up Live on KXLU, the group's triumphant new offering on XXX Records. In addition to a heap of fiery Cheetah originals, the twelve-track platter boasts versions of the MC5's "Looking at You" and the Stooges' "Fun House," as well as the combo's own personal shout-out to Motown proper, titled, fittingly enough, "Motor City Rock n Roll." What's more, KXLU features a bonus disc produced by brother Wayne Kramer, the former MC5 guitarist and White Panther poster boy (see "The Revolution Lives," June 13, 1996). Clearly, the Cheetahs--whose moniker was lifted from Iggy Pop's "Search and Destroy"--know what they like.
"We definitely wear our influences on our sleeves," acknowledges guitarist/vocalist Frank Meyer, who joins bassist Dino Everett, guitarist Art Jackson and drummer Mike Sessa in the outfit. "But it's that high energy that came out of Detroit in the late Sixties that really sets us all on fire. I mean, we love all sorts of stuff. Dino loves the L.A. punk thing, and I get into classic rock and the Stones and Van Halen and all that--but man, that Motor City rock and roll is what made us become a band and try to put on the shows we do."
And what spectacular shows they are. Indeed, anyone who's ever seen the act live will tell you that the Cheetahs can work a crowd as well as, if not better than, their legendary counterparts. Pouncing on spectators, swinging from the rafters and beating their guitars bloody, these restless fellows sweep through clubs like a tornado, keeping the needle in the red until the show's noise-happy conclusion, which more often than not finds members of the audience plucking away at the band's instruments while the musicians order drinks at the bar. Even on slow nights, Everett insists the four-piece is ready for nothing short of a small-scale riot. "We play the same show for two people or 2,200 people," he declares. "Because when we get on stage, we're just up there entertaining ourselves. We're always trying to one-up the next guy. So by the end of the night, it usually turns into this big train wreck."
"Some of our best shows have been in front of, like, ten people," Meyer adds. "We still just put on a full-on arena show like we're playing Long Beach Arena in '78 or something. And if we're playing in front of a thousand people, we do the same thing."
Lest it be forgotten, the Cheetahs also throw some exemplary tunes into the mix. No-nonsense guitar jabs like "None of Your Business," "Disease" and "Freak Out Man" combine with slightly tamer power-pop numbers such as "Durango" and "Shawna" to produce a stripped-down universal shimmy that touches on all of rock's best qualities without kowtowing to any of them--and if it sounds familiar, who cares? "We know that we aren't setting the world on fire with something new and original," Everett says. "We're just making rock and roll, for Christ's sake."
When Meyer and Everett first pulled the band together in 1995, the last thing on their minds was starting a musical rebellion. Rather, they just wanted to suck down brewskis and play cover tunes by the New York Dolls, Fear, the Germs, Hanoi Rocks, Suzi Quatro and other faves. Such material served as an antidote to what was then a monumentally stagnant Los Angeles music scene. "There was absolutely nothing going on around here in '95," Everett points out. "L.A. was is in this sort of time warp then, where you would go to a club and you'd see these punk bands that you could swear packed it in way back in the Eighties."
"There was also this artsy-fartsy Silver Lake scene with all these shoe-gazing, sort of Oasis bands," Meyer interjects. "You could find some good up-and-coming bands on the Strip at the time, but they weren't the ones getting the attention--they were all underground. Overall, it just seemed like people were screaming for a real fucking rock-and-roll show."
With an eye toward providing just that, the Cheetahs started gigging around town, gradually incorporating their own compositions into the set. By their tenth outing, a major portion of the band's repertoire consisted of newly penned tunes, with only a chestnut or two thrown in for good measure. Nevertheless, the performers hung on to their referential handle, despite its somewhat nostalgic tone. "It just seemed to fit when we started," Everett says. "Because we were a cover band. But as long as we were in it for the long haul, we decided to go with it."
"We were still doing the whole Detroit/New York/chainsaw-guitar thing anyway," Meyer notes. "I mean, that's what we grew up with, and years later, that's what we ended up coming back to as musicians. So it just seemed like an appropriate name. And we really didn't care what anybody thought, anyway. If they thought we were a Stooges-type band, we didn't really give a fuck. I mean, at the time, we thought, 'Hey, so what? We are kind of a Stooges-type band.'"