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According to Frank Schultz of the Soiled Dove, the challenge of paying artists their due can be daunting. He almost always loses money on his Sunday-night Locals Launch series, where new acts perform pro bono in an audition-like setting in hopes of currying favor with the Dove's booking staff as well as audiences. Much of the club's revenue comes not from its live music attributes, but its food, drink and upstairs patio, which often resembles a frat party in Cabo. From a promoter's point of view, he says, it can be difficult to balance business with boosterism.
"I have always made a huge effort to appear as though I support local music, because I genuinely do support it and care about it," says Schultz, who offers the Dove's facilities and a buffet dinner for monthly meetings of the Colorado Music Association. "But it can be tough sometimes when you're talking about events that don't bring in any money. Where are you going to get the money to pay everyone? You've already got these really marginal budgets for things like the People's Fair. Sometimes that exposure is the best thing a band can hope for. They may play for free, yeah, but they play in front of 500 people and sell thirty CDs. It's viable."
So, it seems, is pursuing another line of work.
The Detroit Cobras have refused to quit their day jobs, despite having recently found themselves shooting out of the music-industry hypeline. In fact, when it comes to their musical careers, the members of the Motor City quintet seems completely and totally devoid of ambition.
For starters, the band doesn't see much reason to bother writing its own material: All of the songs that appear on its full-length debut, Life, Love and Leaving, are covers culled from the five players' collective vinyl bins: Ronnie Mack's "Cry On," Mary Wells's "Bye Bye Baby," Ike Turner's "Can't Miss Nothing" and other not-quite-smash hits of the late-'50s, early-'60s soul canon. Love, Life and Leavingboasts a scrappy recording -- by design, one assumes -- and apes the textbook garage aesthetic that's currently de rigueur among Motor City's insular hipster band culture. (Not to nitpick, but the band doesn't appear to have run a spellcheck on its liner notes; hence the credit for "Shout Bama Lama" to "Ottis Redding.")
Additionally, the Cobras don't really dig touring, and the band's phone is not even outfitted with a companion answering machine, which is why Backwash finally gave up on reaching the group for an interview. If the fivesome has a mission, guitarist Maribel Restrepo has said in recent interviews, it's to give purpose to their drinking and bar-hopping, which sounds perfectly reasonable to us.
Somehow, despite all of this surface disinterest, the Cobras have become the newest It band to emerge from the same bombed-out, downtrodden downtown scene that spawned the White Stripes, thanks in no small part to their inclusion on Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit, a comp produced by the Stripes' Jack White. The band was recently cited in a Spin cover story that stopped just short of describing the Michigan soul capital as hallowed musical ground. The Cobras have reportedly been fielding calls from label reps bent on luring them away from their present suitor, Sympathy for the Record Industry. (Maybe it's a good thing they don't have that answering machine.)
This is all fine and fun, but a little odd considering the Cobras are essentially a cover band, albeit one that's more impressive in a live setting than on record. The band definitely has a trump card in vocalist Rachel Nagy, a former butcher, exotic dancer and self-described non-musician who stumbled into her frontwoman role in an effort to spite a talentless former friend. Nagy likes to taunt crowds with both her sexuality and her notorious on-stage outbursts about asshole audiences and mangled body parts. To some, though, the music may smack of caricature, lacking the bombast of the Bellrays or the heart of the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs and other soul-punk patriots. Those folks are likely to credit the Cobras' success to the fact that sometimes a band is just in the right place at the right time -- like, in Detroit, right now.
The Cobras will probably not be the catalyst of a rock-revival revolution -- as Spinwould have us believe -- but they will certainly make for a couple of nights of raucous entertainment: The band appears at the Lion's Lair on Friday, October 25, and Saturday, October 26, as part of that venue's tenth-anniversary celebration. Happy birthday, kitty cat.