Babes in Arms

Detroit's The Go fights to save the soul of rock 'n' roll

The record's lo-fi feel and Smith's retro-minded production pay equal homage to the liberating noise of '60s protopunk and the melodic crunch of two generations worth of garage bands. Most of the tracks on Whatcha Doin' could pass for lost classics from the famed Michigan Brand Nuggets record. It's an effect that's obviously planned, but brought about with enough sincerity that it doesn't sound contrived.

"We knew we didn't want the record to sound so clean that it would be piercing to the brain. We just wanted to sound good enough so people could understand us," says Krautner. "What you hear on the record is just a freak experience. It's our first time in the studio ever, and Matt Smith's first time producing us, and whatever came out of that is on the record. It was a freak experience, but it turned out to be really interesting."

Whatcha Doin' somehow manages to synthesize and digest all of the group's influences into one cohesive statement without ever coming off as too studied or reverential. In a way, The Go is the polar opposite of a seemingly similar band like Los Angeles' Streetwalkin' Cheetahs -- a group whose every move, from its name to its records to the military precision of its "improvised" stage antics reveals it as nothing more than a talented mimic offering up faithful renditions and pastiches of what was once original.

Get you off: The Go finds sanction in the sounds of it's Motor City forefathers
Get you off: The Go finds sanction in the sounds of it's Motor City forefathers
"Rock 'n' roll will give me what I need": The Go's Bobby Harlow.
Doug Coombe
"Rock 'n' roll will give me what I need": The Go's Bobby Harlow.

Though The Go's influences and style are much more diverse, it doesn't try to shirk the obvious influence of the godheads of Detroit punk rock -- the Stooges and MC5. "That stuff undeniably links every band in Detroit right now to each other. We're no exception. The MC5 and the Stooges died for our rock 'n' roll sins," laughs Krautner. Even the album's artwork -- a posterized silhouette of the band and a logo created by artist Gary Grimshaw -- pays homage to the bygone era of the Grande Ballroom and the White Panther Party.

Apart from the pervasive Motor City punk influence, Whatcha Doin' is built on a solid foundation of blue- and brown-eyed soul. For Krautner, the omnipresent influence of both black and white rhythm and blues was unavoidable. "As a kid that's what my mom listened to. She had tons of records. She was always playing the radio. Songs like 'Hang on Sloopy' by the McCoys. R&B records too -- Gino Washington, Andre Williams, all those guys," says Krautner. "Detroit was the place to be in the '50s and '60s. I was struck by that, and I figured we should investigate what the hell was going on in the city a while back. From that investigation we've come to the sound that we play today."

And the sound in question is a remarkable concoction. The punk/R&B blend is augmented with touches of hot white soul, psychedelia and glam, leaving behing vibrant flashes of the Rationals, Deviants and T-Rex. Whatcha Doin' beams with the kind of energy and spirit that could only be produced by a group of well-informed and talented rock 'n' roll ingénues.

The band showcases an impressive range throughout, from soul screamers like "Keep on Trash" and "You Can Get High" to funky, strutting workouts like "On the Corner." The rhythm of Buick and Fellis swaggers admirably, adding a heavy bottom to the rich guitar spuzz on top.

Singer Bobby Harlow's voice oozes dangerous sexuality. His languid delivery is full of predatory undertones in "Summer Sun" and "Meet Me at the Movies," songs that are the musical equivalent to a dark, back-seat encounter on a sweltering summer night. Krautner delivers supple harmonies on a handful of tracks and sings lead on "Get You Off" and the title track.

Through it all the group walks a fine line, retaining the rough edges of its punk and roots base without sacrificing any of the carefully crafted structure and sonic signatures of classic pop. Note the shaking tambourines on "Tired of the Night," the prominently placed hand claps of "Suzy Don't Leave," and an overall aesthetic that tips its hat to the revved-up mod stylings of the Who, Pretty Things and the Kinks.

Krautner admits the early going on the road has been rough. Being a new, relatively unknown band has its hardships -- endless days cramped together in a van, sleeping on floors, playing to empty halls. But the hard-traveled miles have further solidified the group as a unit and influenced the direction of the band's sound. "We're evolving right now into a more vocally concentrated rock 'n' roll."

"Our songs are pretty unpredictable," continues Krautner. "So are our interests, and they evolve in the same way. Because of that it's difficult to say what the next record will sound like."

The group plans on returning to the studio with Smith in January to begin work on a sophomore album. The band is already incorporating some of the newer material into its live set -- along with beefed-up and freaked-out covers of rock chestnuts like "Slippin' and Slidin" and Kim Fowley's "Bubblegum."

In the meantime, Sub Pop plans on releasing another The Go song as part of its singles club and also making available a vinyl version of Whatcha Doin' featuring "Hesitation," a bonus non-CD track.

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