Let's see. Urbations, Watusis, Stomprockets, Navarones, the Shanks, and a half dozen other Marshall-amp-charged garage bands I've forgotten the names of, none with a snowball's chance in hell of ever becoming anything more than an obscure footnote in the history of rock 'n' roll. Dan Mulholland has been fronting cool punk-spirited garage-rock bands in Ann Arbor for three decades, and his latest outfit, the Boomerangs, is yet another kick-in-the-teeth three-chord wonder that sounds more and more as if it's from another world.
This band is a basic guitar-bass-drums-voice foursome that draws on dusty obscurities and a few intense originals that all flow into one joyous low-tech noise. From the blues of Ronnie Earl's "The Hump" and the Ike Turner chestnut "If Loving Is Believing" to lost B sides by the Outsiders and the cheap psychedelia of Peter Frampton's teen band the Herd to even more invisible stuff from the twisted southern garage blues legend Jerry McCain, the band reinvents tunes that are both ear-ringing snapshots of some emotional hell and twisted kitschy masterpieces.
Of course, Michigan is in the midst of a garage revival, and to anyone ignorant of history, the Boomerangs — with guitarist Randy Baker, bassist Tom Robbins, and drummer Adam Berg backing Mulholland's vocals — might sound like someone jumping on a trend. When I caught the band in Ypsilanti at TC's Speakeasy, everything was smoky and loud and in tune with the garage renaissance. Mulholland, in a black T-shirt and black jeans, had the crowd of twenty-something hipsters bouncing up and down along with the forty-and-beyond-somethings who remembered him from Joe's Star Lounge in the early 1980s. Randy Baker is maybe one of the great lost garage guitarists in the city, with plenty of simple and powerful rumbling licks and the sense to know when not to play. The rhythm section was rock solid and booming.
But Dan Mulholland is a world-class rock 'n' roll original who didn't jump on any bandwagon. And after being part of the crowds that have been thrilled by his performances for three decades now, I finally had it dawn on me that he must have been born under a bad sign. Some sense of this even seems channeled through the energy of his voice, in its screaming thousand-gigs-in-as-many-dives soulfulness. It's a small tragedy that most of the rest of the world hasn't a clue.
A few weeks ago I met Mulholland for beers, again at TC's, and this time he was all in white — a paint-splattered work outfit. We traded stories about the power of music — from how he met Kinks legend Ray Davies in New Orleans to how he caught dozens of MC5 gigs back in the day — and he smiled about how he'd just heard a great new band from Dayton, Ohio, the Heartless Bastards, and got that same buzz that all of us get when music just clicks. It hit me that Mulholland is one of those rare musicians who never forget or lose sight of what music can do to you.
The sunlit Top of the Park may not be as perfect a setting for this band as some club at midnight, but I'll be there on Friday, June 30, to celebrate Ann Arbor's good fortune to claim Mulholland as our own, obscure or not.
[Review published June 2006]