In an era when a lot of music has scaled back and become overly somber, Electric Six has revived the concept of “more is more.” Their high-energy guitar, shimmering banks of synthesizers and humor — featuring equal measures of tongue and cheek — have reinvented the Rock experience as a contemporary high-energy vaudeville act.
The Detroit sextet’s fifth studio album, the recently released Flashy, is a case in point, running the gamut from the horn-driven bullring Rock of “Gay Bar Pt. 2” (the sequel to their 2003 hit single), the Funk blasting “Dirty Ball,” the Beck-on-Disco thump of “Your Heat is Rising” and the Roxy Music freakout of “Watching Evil Empires Fall Apart.”
Frontman Dick Valentine, the band’s remaining original member, claims there was only one specific goal with the new album.
“We wanted to give people another reason to have us around a little longer,” he says. “There’s a certain contingent of people out there (asking), ‘Where are they now? Why won’t they go away?’ Every year that we come out with another album, it pleases me to know that we’re stoking that kind of ire. If people are wondering, ‘Where are they now?,’ the answer is right in front of them.”
Electric Six began more than a decade ago in Detroit, originally known as the Wildbunch. A UK group with the same name forced the change. E6 attracted a loyal Motor City following in the same circles that spawned The White Stripes and Detroit Cobras. After years of toiling in the club trenches, they scored a contract with XL Recordings, a Beggar’s Banquet imprint.
E6’s debut, Fire, was an immediate sensation, fueled by the single “Danger! High Voltage,” a massive hit in the UK and a relative hit here. Controversy surrounded Electric Six from the start, first with the rumor that Jack White sang with Valentine on “Danger! High Voltage” (first denied, then confirmed), then when Queen fans were outraged at the video for their cover of “Radio Ga Ga” from their second album, 2005’s Señor Smoke
In 2005, XL dropped E6 and they signed with Philadelphia Industrial/Goth indie label Metropolis, where they’ve released their last three albums. Although the band has endured numerous lineup changes, Valentine’s vision for the band and his wiseass lyrics — he’s claimed 80 percent of the band’s songs are about nothing — have formed a consistent core for Electric Six. To many, the band’s cross-genre sampling and high energy stage show is reminiscent of the Bay Area’s favorite sons of ’70s/’80s Rock vaudeville, The Tubes.
“I’m personally touched by that,” says Valentine. “I don’t think it’s going to help us win over the Fall Out Boy or Panic at the Disco audience. I don’t think they know who The Tubes are, nor should they be expected to. I’ve always enjoyed The Tubes. If I could go into any musical scene, I’ve always said San Francisco in the late ’70s. You’ve got The Tubes, Huey Lewis, The Greg Kihn Band, Journey, Night Ranger.”
After a dozen years and five albums, Valentine admits to a little difficulty in finalizing a set list when Electric Six hits the road. In some ways, though, it’s simplified the process.
“It’s getting harder to drift into deep cut territory,” Valentine says. “We want to play enough stuff off the new record and then the stuff off the older records, all we have time for is ‘the hits.’ It’s getting tougher to whip out ‘Devil Nights’ or ‘Mr. Woman.’ We have to stick with ‘Rock and Roll Evacuation’ and ‘I Buy the Drugs’ and everything after that is a bonus.”
And, for those who need to know ahead of time, Valentine says E6 will be featuring both versions of “Gay Bar” in this tour’s set. He notes that they tried to drop the original from the set with disastrous results, leading them to reinstate it for this tour.
“We get the original out of the way early,” he says. “Then after everyone leaves, we play the sequel to the two people that are still around after we’ve played the first ‘Gay Bar.’ The new one is probably my favorite new song to do live. It’s a show-stopper.”
But opposing versions of “Gay Bar” in the same set? Aren’t they afraid of tearing a hole in the space/time continuum?
“I see what you’re saying, but it’s not really matter/antimatter,” Valentine says. “It’s more of a sequence, and I’ve never been afraid of a good old-fashioned sequence.”
Given Electric Six’s relatively manic recording pace — nearly an album a year for the last five years — it’s conceivable that they’ll be ready to drop a new one late next year. And considering the band has written some of the best drug and sex songs in recent memory, and given their penchant for name-checking the famous in song (“Jimmy Carter,” “Lenny Kravitz”), it seems natural to inquire about the possibility of a tune referencing disgraced former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
“I’m gonna stay away from that subject,” Valentine says with a laugh. “I don’t underestimate his ability to come out and get me. Some of the deadliest and most successful hits have been orchestrated from the inside, so I’m gonna keep my mouth shut.”
ELECTRIC SIX plays a free show at The Mad Hatter Friday with Local H, The Lions Rampant and Golden Dogs. Get details and find nearby bars and restaurants here.