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  • Paula Tiberius

James Williamson @ The Bootleg Theater

Like many rock and rollers my age, I grew up listening to The Stooges, wishing I’d been there back in the day – I could have driven to Ann Arbor from Toronto in a heartbeat! I just know it would have melted my face and changed my life. Hell, it happened anyway ten years later on vinyl.

So when legendary Stooges guitar player James Williamson decided to put out an album of unsung and much-sung tracks (called Re-licked) with a star-studded karaoke line up of singers and do a one-time show in a small venue, of course I was going, despite The Dictators playing in Hollywood (we saw them in Long Beach instead – you can read all about that here).

The Bootleg Theater constructed a perfect set-up for James Williamson and his band, with a huge dance floor, but also plush stadium seating for us oldsters to relax between sets. We did see one guy napping during The Richmond Sluts who were giving it their all, but in his defense, he was probably old enough to be their dad, and Mr. Williamson wasn’t going on until midnight….

Cheetah Chrome from The Dead Boys opened and kicked ass all over the place with The Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs behind him. Man, the punk rock hits just kept coming, like Ain’t It Fun, Son of Sam and Sonic Reducer.

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Cheetah Chrome & The Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs – so many cheetahs, so little time…..

When James Williamson finally came out, the audience went nuts, of course . He didn’t say a word – seriously not one word the whole night – and instead spoke through his guitar. Then the karaoke onslaught began!

First up was Jello Biafra in a “Fuck the Tea Party” T-shirt, knocking Head On out of the park. He was jumping around like a teenager and belting like a motherfucker. I never got to see the Dead Kennedys, so I felt lucky.

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Biafra & the very quiet James Williamson!

A huge highlight for me was Lisa Kekaula from the Bellrays, possibly the coolest singer in America right now. When I went to see her band The Bellrays in Toronto ten years ago, it was because I had seen a poster that said, Tina Turner fronts The MC5 and I thought, wow, they’ve got a lot of balls evoking those heroes! Then I went to see them and spent the rest of the night with my jaw on the floor, watching Ms. Kekaula dance all over the black shiny table-tops at The El Mocambo to some seriously Detroit sounds.

She sang I Gotta Right, which is one of my favorite songs of all time, and one of the reasons I got the word FREE tattooed on the inside of my lip.

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Lisa Kekaula, the coolest singer in America.

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Lisa Kekaula, still being cool, singing the other two songs she sang, which are escaping me. Please let me know in the comments section if you remember.

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Okay I didn’t get a picture of her whipping her head around – this was from the first song she did, which is escaping me.

Another huge highlight for me was Carolyn Wonderland. I had never heard of her though it seemed like everyone else had, and now reading her website I see she’s described as Janis Joplin meets Stevie Ray Vaughn. Sounds about right to me!! I’m pretty sure she gave everyone goose bumps as she sang Scene of the Crime. Her head was whipping around all over the place while she screamed (in tune!) and played – I plan to learn more about her.

There were so many other great guests including Alison Mosshart from The Kills, Joe Cardamone, Ron Young, Shea Roberts, Frank Meyer and more.

I finally did have my face melting moment at the very end of the show when James Williamson ripped into Search & Destroy. So many bands play this song – and when I say so many bands, I’m not being hyperbolic. SO MANY BANDS cover this song. It is one of the best songs in the world, but sometimes it gets to be a bit like the punk rock Hotel California. Except when it’s actually the actual legendary fucking James Williamson playing those licks and solos. I got goosebumps on my goosebumps and I almost felt fourteen again, when I first heard it. I can’t even remember who sang it because I was just staring at his fingers and the guitar.

I guess you can say I was Re-licked…..

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