I first heard the Detroit Cobras in the late ‘90s. I was dating strippers pretty much exclusively at the time, and strippers loved their first record Mink, Rabbit, or Rat. It was no surprise really with a chanteuse the caliber of front woman Rachel Nagy, exhaling her smoky, sultry voice over fuzzed out guitar-laden gems from the endlessly storied vaults of R&B. I imagine that it became a point of pride to ask the DJ to throw on a Cobra’s song when it was your turn on stage, much easier to play out being Rachel Nagy than Vince Neil for the dancers. Plus, there’s no denying the band was tight.
I caught the Detroit Cobras at a sold-out club show in Newport Kentucky, 2003, and they were fun as hell, supporting their second album Life, Love, and Leaving. My friends and I danced our asses off, and had deep discussions in the cab home about what it means to be a performer. A front woman, a female performer, a sex object. A chanteuse.
You see, Detroit Cobras is a band with a heavy dynamic, mostly between the two female members, guitarist Mary Ramirez and singer Rachel Nagy. They also, with one exception, only play ’60s soul and R&B covers. While the band’s selections are almost always obscure and tasteful. . . they’re still a cover band at the end of the day. The important work has already been done for them.
The Detroit Cobras were last scheduled to appear in Seattle at Neumo’s on July 3, 2012. More than one person informed me that they got banned from the venue for shooting smack onstage. This seems to be a legend, because all I can find is that their tour got cancelled before the date even arrived. The most lascivious evidence I can find is that the tour was cancelled for “personal reasons.” Besides, I ain’t here to split hairs over rock ‘n’ roll. Do what you do, have a good time, and use condoms. Everybody should know that this job don’t pay in dollars.
The Cobras rolled into town on a Monday night. The joint was packed; it was an amazing turnout. Seattle’s own Tacocat started off the evening. I had never seen Tacocat before, but had read an interview the singer had done with The Stranger talking about the dangers of getting mouth herpes off of club microphones. I don’t know if she was joking or not, but I now always bring my own mic to every show.
Tacocat really impressed me with their brand of Katrina and the Waves meets Cyndi Lauper pop punk, and made me realize early on, that they were the perfect local band for opening this bill. And I don’t mean to pigeonhole them with those descriptors either. I saw a lot of influences in their set, from Blondie to the ’80s cartoon Jem and the Holograms; as well I recognized they do their own thing. They started the night off on a good beat.
Pangea was up next. They’re actually on tour with the Cobras, and I find that a strange choice. The band was great. They were tight and energetic; their sound more than once recalling Violent Femmes, the Knack, and the Modern Lovers. Their lead guitarist obviously wanted to be in a metal band, but they held it tight and won the room over.
There were lots of girls in the audience, and they had gone to happy hours before this show. It was 11 o’clock on a Monday night, and they were getting anxious.
Okay. . . let me just get this out of the way. Detroit Cobras are a cover band, and they’re charging $15 a head at the door. The place holds upwards of 200, and the room is almost full.
The happy hour girls all charge the stage. The floor is ready for a dance off. . .
Detroit Cobras come on and something is awry from the start. They’re fucking wasted, blotto, blown. Mary Ramirez keeps up with the touring band alright, but Nagy doesn’t even try. She still has the voice when she chooses to use it, but there’s no stage persona. Of course she does have that ass still, but it remains rather still as the band continues to break character between every single number they play. At first it’s insulting Seattle, because we’re all rich and smart, and the band is from Detroit, which by default makes them dumb and poor I suppose. And all of this is alright, I’ve always been a punk and I expect some shit, but at $15 dollars a head, being a punk, I expect some heart at least.
The band play-acts through a few numbers, after “Cha Cha Twist” about a third of the room leaves. It’s their third song of the night. The Cobras are more concerned with their electronic cigarettes to even notice the mass exodus out of the doors. By their seventh tune, there are about fifty of us left. But what they lacked in soul, they definitely gave us in set time, an hour and a half of bad jokes and really, honestly. . . If you want to call it what it really was, expensive karaoke.