|Photo by Serafin|
This group has been playing music for 13 years? Hearing one of their diehards scream this ubiqitous factoid to a curious onlooker at the Lager House this past Saturday, I felt a bit like a hermit living in a cave for the past decade. How is it possible that I'd only first heard of this band's existence a mere four months ago ?
Wait. Wait. I'm doing it again. I'm getting ahead of myself here . . .
The Ruiners history reads like Steven Adler's recent biography, without the Andes mountain of cocaine. They have their own notorious tales of revolving door band membership, fist fights, health issues, tour issues, internal strife, jail . . . Every setback you can imagine, and yet they've managed to not only endure, but mature.
Honestly, my first impressions of the band were tainted with doubt. Vocalist Nina, a natural beauty, recently graced the cover of Detroit Live magazine, but does that mean this picturesque beauty can deliver the goods ? A quick google search reveals several pictures of gun wielding, Rick Ruiner set ablaze, ala Nikki Sixx in 1985. Bassist Liz Ruiner consistently exhibits a mysterious, quiet cool in the group's press photos. Percussionist Rob Ruiner, though an incredibly talented and precise drummer, reminded me of DRB's accountant. And, guitarist Justin Ruiner. uh, yeah . . Justin is the badass you wanted to hire to find that kid who stole (and ate!) your lunch in third grade. The You Tube videos for 'Sugar Buzz' and 'Get A Beer' were clever, homegrown productions, and provided an indication of hope. But, with all the drama, the rumors, the growing legends, could the sum of these parts surpass my expectations live ?
Well, there's perception, and then there's the cold, hard reality of standing on stage with the lights about to go up . .
|Photo by Serafin|
Imagine you had the January flu, I mean had it so bad you were tossing and turning, cold sweating lurid fever dreams. And, in these luscious dreams Extreme's Nuno Bettencourt, The Goo Goo Dolls John Reznick, a hotter, Russian version of Nina Simone, and Genesis (minus Peter Gabriel), all got drunk at Joan Jett's Malibu condo and decided to form a band. And, suddenly, as this band took took stage in Jett's kitchen, Hell itself opened the fiery gates so Lucifer could take in the show while torturing wayward Baptists. Then, and only then, you might begin to comprehend the white light, white heat energy of this quintet of Art Rock/Glam Rock/Punk Rock musicans.
There is no more electrifying live band in this city, and baby, I have them seen them all. ALL of them. No one, I mean, NO ONE, puts more creative effort into using their live performance to connect with the crowd. Friends and fellow critics have rightfully asked 'But what exactly makes them different from every other Detroit band ?'
They're having fun up there, and it translates. Quite often, bands are unable to reproduce the electricity of playing live with the artistry required in the studio, or vice versa. But for The Ruiners, this is clearly an afterthought. They play the music they love, the songs they write, and perform without a shred of compromise. Beneath the firecracker stage antics of Rick and Nina, you'll find that solidifying a steady lineup has done wonders for the band's technical ability. Musically, they've crafted a tighter, more focused live show, with greater interaction between Justin and Rob, as they intermittently play off one another.
The Lager House on Saturday night is a sea of punk rockers, band loyalists, artists, hipsters, and musicians taking a night off from their own bands, from day jobs, and looking to be distracted from the elongated nightmare of real life.
When the band arrives, it's nothing but smiling hugs and handshakes. The locals adore Rick, a college art instructor by day, The Ruiners frontman by night, and he adores them with equal amounts of devotion. Matter of fact, in retrospect, Rick Ruiner might be the friendliest musician I've seen in the Motor City when you take into account patience with drunken fans.
However, the moment these five take the floor, it is 100% high energy and all business. They are back in their element, with Detroit Rock and Roll once again, holding court.
Rick Ruiner has his stage presence down to a science. Suddenly he's a confetti throwing, beer drinking, high kicking, trash bag wearing king, who can even spout nonsensical gibberish to his audience and make it sexy. He also mixes in climbing speakers, climbing into the crowd to sing Milli Vanilli, trying on pantyhose, proudly displaying not only his bare ass (emerging from jeans so tight nothing is left to the imagination) but also, in a brief salute to women's underwear, hoisting Nina on his shoulder to display her crimson thong.
Nina, from the moment she first grabs that microphone, transforms into an entirely different human being. Gone is the polite, graceful, shyness, this lady of St.Petersburg, exhibits for t-shirt buying autograph hounds, impatient journalists, and picture seeking perverts. Onstage, a redheaded rock butterfly emerges from her cocoon to scream, pout, yell, sing and offer commentary such as “Pravda records owns your ass now, Rick!!!”. You get the sense that for those two hours onstage, she's free.
And there are similar transformations within the other members of The Ruiners. Rob Ruiner's eyes become affixed with an intensity that would make Neil Peart blush with envy as he unleashes machine gun drum rolls and maintains complicated rythyms. Liz picks up her Ibanez bass and literally becomes the anchor of the bands sound, while Justin simultaneously channels Billy Duffy and Billy Corgan. It's here I have to call total bullshit on the Metro Times recent depiction of this group as being average musicians. Justin, Liz, and Rob have the maturity as artists to recognize their role within the group. In fact, it's the solid musicianship of these three, that free Rick and Nina to perform songs like 'Beer Time' with such unchained enthusiasm.
They rolled steadily through material new and old, from 'Fix That Broken Halo' to 'Haul Ass' with casual breaks to hurl some unique props to the enthusiastic crowd. An incredibly lifelike plastic ass signed by the entire band, an 8-track from 'A Star Is Born', and an anatomically correct Marge Simpson. But the true prize was an autographed Jimmy Swaggart record that wound up in the lucky hands of Filmore Slim's bassist Jerri Allen.
It wasn't the second coming of The Clash, no, but that isn't what The Ruiners are meant to be. Instead, it's seeing five skilled performers with the uncommon ability to put aside opinions and ego, meld their unique skills, and invoke the hottest live show in the Motor City.