Sunday, November 7, 2010


  Sponge fans of all ages and backgrounds gathered at The New Dodge Lounge in Hamtramck Friday night to take part in a unique occasion, the first annual 'Get Plowed with Sponge' Pub Crawl, hosted and promoted by Dana Forrester of On The Rocks Detroit. This creative adventure provided Sponge's diverse plethora of hardcore supporters an unusual opportunity to, not only get lit up with the band as advertised, but also support the Firefighters Engine Relief Effort, and get a small taste of the rock and roll tour experience. Which in this case, entailed shuffling from live showcase to live showcase on a heated bus filled with other rowdy fans, local scenesters, and most importantly: the band. Though I will admit, initially, not knowing what to expect, it turned out to be the kind of cut loose, shot drinking, nonstop good times, we lovers of Detroit music like to have on a cold Friday night.
  At least once a year.

  The New Dodge: Hamtramck
  There's a quiet excitement buzzing as soon as you walk in the door of the best bar for live music in Hamtramck. Dana Forrester (60 Second Crush & CRUD) and her husband James Trunko (of Mound Road Engine fame) are greeting fans, handing out the event badges to lucky attendees. Many are old friends or established Detroit scenesters, laughing, and hugging, happy to see one another since the last gathering. Some are new fans eager to sit in the vicinity of one of the Motor City's most successful musical exports. Stories of 'How did you first meet Sponge' are already being shared, Natural Light arrives by the case, and toasts to the band are raised.
  Then Detroit's version of Alt rock royalty arrives: The Patalan Brothers, Kyle Neely, Billy Adams, the invincible Vinnie Dombrowski, and CRUD's mesmerizing front woman Danielle Arsenault. Each artist takes time to greet, shake hands, and work this crowd of the devoted with a patience and charisma sadly lacking in modern rock today. (When's the last time Nickelback took us on a pub crawl ?) No, Sponge make it clear from moment one they appreciate their fans. Not just for showing up to another concert, but for the time considerations, as many fans now have families. Some are unemployed, some are working two jobs just to cover the rent. In light of the current economy, particularly in Detroit, to attend an event such as this, despite the surrealistic appeal of riding on a bus with rock stars and the fact most of the money raised is donated to charity, for some it's a necessary financial sacrifice.
  Four cigarettes, one effective megaphone, and two discussions of meeting Vinnie when he was playing an Orbitsun's show later, the voice of God, I mean Dana, announces that it is time to load up, and all 80 of us are suddenly thrust outside in the bitter November cold, with the stark choice of Bus #1 or #2 staring us right in the face.
  My heavy decision is made easy thanks to the charismatic Mike Close. I'm summoned to ride with him and his lovely companion Julie Pratt on bus #1, and thus, the evening is already promising.
  Although, these fans range in age from early twenties to middle sixties, the core of the evenings attendees are late thirty/early forty somethings. Primarily those who were 18-19 on September 1st, 1994 when the song 'Plowed' was released as a single, and Rotting Pinata had reached 58 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart. These fans passionately and vividly recall a time when Sponge were at the top of the Alt Rock radio heap and riding a wave of national popularity.
  In other words: SIXTEEN YEARS AGO.
  It matters little to these Detroit devotees that Sponge, though still occasionally touring the U.S. and an eternally popular draw in Michigan, now travel at a much more defined edge of musical relevance. On the (thankfully) heated buses, over the course of two hours, they discuss which was the best tour, how many shows they've attended, and what b-sides are to be considered 'must have'. Astoundingly, a highly spirited discussion erupts over whether the song order for Wax Ecstatic should have been changed prior to release.
  Let me tell you people, THAT is a fan.
  Someone who argues that 'I Am Anastasia' should have placed higher in the pecking order than 'My Purity'. But, it also provides a glimpse into the curious appeal of Sponge, whose fans are unquestionably passionate, right down to album track listings.

 The New Way: Ferndale
  For the first two minutes after we arrive in Ferndale, it's complete chaos as Vinnie, who never seems to tire of being patient with the public, signs t-shirts and CDs, poses for pictures, and wades through adoring fans. The New Way is jammed, whether it be a traditional Friday night crowd, word of mouth, or the sudden addition of a multitude of raucous Sponge fans. Patrons can barely walk to the bathroom, let alone shoot a game of pool, but it's all fun and all in the name of rock and roll. Pub crawlers refuel on Bud Light and shots of whiskey, until the band is prepared and they begin to call for Vinnie to perform.  The crowd is so thick, the tour manager has to pry his way through to lead Vinnie up to the stage. Fox 2's Ron Savage conducts a brief interview, and Vinnie, ever the class representative of our city, bestows thanks and praise to all in attendance. Then without warning, the pulsating build up of the night's energy simply takes over.  The band launches full scale into a Red Bull version of 'Plowed', with all cylinders firing. And the waiting crowd responds in kind, shouting every word.
  Each of us forgets it's 2010 and that some of us have to be at work at 6am the next morning. For a brief moment, it's 1995 again, and we're all getting ready for Lollapalooza! The worries and responsibilities of middle age adult life disappear in a rock and roll haze. For the second number, Vinnie calls Danielle Aresenault up on stage and they perform live gem 'Party Til We Drop' a favorite, mostly I suspect, as the lyrics involve Danielle asking where the cocaine is?

  Shelly Kelly's Irish Tavern: Fraser
  I have a confession to make. Upon arrival at this cozy Fraser nightspot, I was temporarily distracted from covering the event by the green and black Shelly Kelly server 'uniforms' and the distinct ability of one bartender to carry Budweiser bottles in her cleavage: America's Got Talent!!!
  Vinnie and the band disembark, mingle, sign countless autographs, and drink shots with a few long time enthusiasts, before taking the stage for the second, spirited version of . . you guessed it! 'Plowed'.
  “Pub Crawlers are you out there! Pub Crawlers are you out there ?!” Vinnie asks.  Yes they are and they respond with drunken devil horns, screaming, and glasses raised.
“It's called 'Let's Get Plowed with Sponge! So it's Plowed number two time here tonight! And it goes like this!”
  For me, the theme is already going stale, and I seize this opportunity to order some french fries. But the band's energy is undeniably addictive, and few could make the same song played just twenty minutes prior, carry the same impact. To their credit, Sponge rip through it with a fierce level of determination. It certainly helps that, positioned directly in front of the 'stage', the die-hards are dancing, jumping, recording, and singing along as if it's the first time they've ever heard 'Plowed' played live. When Vinnie abruptly stops the music and lets these dilettantes finish, they carry the song to it's end.
  “Trageddddddddyyyyyyyyyyy!” They howl in near perfect unison.
  Vinnie gave thanks to the pub crawlers, Shelly Kelly for hosting the event, and Motor City John before beginning the words to 'Molly (16 Candles)'.
  I'm not making this up. One woman standing near me is crying. Big salty Sponge tears. In the same way that years ago, the DRB gave his heart to the Detroit Lions, she heard 'Rotting Pinata' and gave her heart to Sponge. Although, I seriously doubt she's been disappointed like I have.
  No offense, Mr.Tyler, but try finding that kind of band devotion at Aerosmith's recent lackluster exhibition at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
  The triumph of this performance was that the DRB was able to record it, finish a giant plate of Shelly Kelly's excellent french fries, and navigate the crowded, narrow walkway up to the mens room. But as I said, this routine is already getting stale, and the DRB is looking to the band to change it up. . .

  Hayloft: Mt. Clemmens
  . . which is exactly what the band does. At the Hayloft, they subtract the drums so that Vinnie, Kyle, and Andy deliver  acoustic versions of 'Plowed' and 'Molly'. This performance succeeds on so many levels, I can barely find the words to describe it. Although it wasn't their most energetic, it was their most intimate performance of the night.  And, they delivered more than just a MTV Unplugged take on 'Plowed'.  It's an emotionally satisfying rendition that finds Sponge at their raw best, connecting with those of us from the buses, but also reconnecting with the casual admirer or total stranger who just happened to stop into the Hayloft that night. In that moment, for those two songs, U2 would have been jealous.
  I could have watched another 8 or 9 songs in this manner, but, this gig is over before it's time, and we are in and out of the Hayloft in record time.
  Andy Patalan breaks up the next leg of the drive with several rounds of Sponge trivia.  The questions consist of info only a relative, or lifelong fan would know, such as how many Tims' have been in the band ? (Answer: 3, Tim Patalan, Tim Cross, Tim Krukowski) Some character shouted out 'Buster Douglas!'

  The Ugly Duckling: Harper Woods
  At the Ugly Duckling, our entire group convenes in the entryway, as unexpected confusion stops the Sponge train cold. There's a curious twist of events. Turns out, shocking as this is to believe, there's no PA system in place at the Ugly Duckling. Also performance space in this locals favorite seems to be limited. However, there IS a fully functioning, state of the art karaoke system. Quick thinking prevails, as Andy Patalan seizes his moment to deliver a stunning rendition of Journey's 'Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin''. In a moment of what can only be described as on-the-spot genius, the surprisingly entertaining (and first ever) 'Get Plowed With Sponge' Karaoke Spectacular occurs. The three ballsiest souls in the room volunteered to serenade us with their own take on 'Plowed' in hopes of snagging a Sponge t-shirt. All three attempts are courageous, but Holly Rotter had already set the bar awfully high with her dance remix version of AC/DC's ballroom/barroom anthem 'Big Balls'.

  Back to The New Dodge Lounge:
  It's getting late. And reality of real life is setting in. The Sponge Army trudges back to the two buses.  We load up and discover, halfway back to the New Dodge, that we forgot the Patalan brothers.
  Some fans we are ?
  Fortunately, the Patalan brothers manage to find their way back to the bus. 
  The evening finishes back at the New Dodge where new friends, and old, disembarked from our travels and either went to the bathroom to throw up, or said their goodbyes, or both. I found myself in the fortunate and highly enviable position of buying Checkers cheeseburgers for a starving and grateful Andy Patalan, who sat with our interesting group of jokesters in the back of Bus #1. He and I were able to talk openly about his experience with the band, how they chose the songs for set list, and what the current life of a Detroit touring guitarist consists of. One fact remaining to be ironed out: Will we ever see a release of Sponge's live version of 'Kiss From A Rose' ?
  Perhaps next pub crawl?
  The DRB must dish out some praise. Dana and James are to be commended for deftly maneuver two busloads of intoxicated fans, their quick response to unexpected hiccups, and their overall professionalism. There were no fights, no one got arrested, and for navigating five bars with a rock band and their rabid fans in tow, that's quite an accomplishment. It seems that whether it's Mustache Parties, Pub Crawls, or sexy Halloween hooliganism, On The Rocks Detroit has positioned themselves as THE go to company for event promotion.
  Most important, at the end of the evening, forty dollars for charity was a fucking bargain.

for the DRB
Pics by Mike Close
Video from Fox 2
and Mike Close

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