Bobby Conn’s show at the Magic Stick on Sunday night certainly had potential. Rolling into Detroit armed with a fun new album of material and matching faded denim suits lined with fur, Conn has a reputation in the indie rock scene for delivering wonderfully theatric performances. Nonetheless, Sunday’s show turned out to be an ambitious spectacle that never quite managed to be entertaining.
Conn’s latest record for the eclectic Thrill Jockey label, The Homeland, is a pointed protest record whose anger at the current Bush administration is cloaked in the flashy diamond-studded, open-chested suits of glam rock and disco. “We brought our guns to set you free,” Conn says in the opener “We Come In Peace.” “We know we’re right / Say goodbye to all your history / Come and join our family.” The record progresses from there – a sarcastic and humorously decadent critique. The Homeland ends with “Ordinary Violence,” a tune with much the same tone: “If you’re willing to die for what you believe then we’re happy to kill you all.” Regardless of your political views, it’s hard to deny the lyrics’ wittiness.
What works on The Homeland, however, did not at the Stick. Part concert, sermon and glitzy carousal, Conn’s energetic performance wasn’t coherent. It was almost impossible to hear the words so eloquently recited on the disc through the frantic treatment given to them by Conn and his band. The tunes also never seemed to click musically. Whenever the band seemed to lock into a theme they would leave it too soon, continuously taking away from the listener the satisfaction of feeling where the music was going next. Interesting rifts and lines were scattered about but never dwelled on.
While Conn definitely has the musical talent and showmanship to deliver a mesmerizing performance he seemed reluctant to let any particular aspect of his routine shine through. Particularly poignant lyrics were overrun by swirling arrangements and his manic delivery of what could have been theatric crooning made the glam seem more like ham. The Homeland is enjoyable because it wraps a particular message with an unexpected vibe. Conn’s show was equally unpredictable but far less rewarding.