Swingin' Utters/Western Settings - Live in Detroit (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Swingin' Utters / Western Settings

Live in Detroit (2017)

live show

I’ve been a Swingin’ Utters fan for a long time, but I hadn’t seen them play for many years. I figured probably a decade. I was shocked when I looked it up and discovered that it was actually more like two decades. I was definitely interested in going to the show at Small’s in Hamtramck on Thursday, November 16th. When they added some killer local support, it was an easy sell. We left straight from work for the almost three hour drive, with every intention of being there by the time Rebel Spies! hit the stage at 8pm. We almost made it.

Rebel Spies! are one of my favorite Detroit bands, but I’d only ever caught them live for a few minutes a couple of years earlier. Their debut album Rise! is also among my favorite LP’s of 2017. We were only about five minutes late, so I was able to hear the majority of their half hour set. They tore through most of the songs from the new album, as well as a brand new song that I didn’t catch the name of. Rebel Spies! are a quintet that play catchy, classic punk and hardcore about as well as anyone at the moment, and their live show did not disappoint. (Especially the wardrobe malfunction anecdote.) There’s enough melody for pop punk fans, enough speed and aggression for hardcore kids, and enough spooky shit for the goth crowd. You really need to check out Rebel Spies!. They’re one of the Motor City’s best kept secrets.

Next up was Break Anchor, a Detroit band that most of you should know. It’s always cool when a ‘local opener’ is also a national headliner in their own right, and that’s certainly the case with Break Anchor. The voices of guitarist/vocalist Jay Navarro and guitarist/vocalist Kyle Green combine in the best kind of way, with Green’s smooth delivery contrasting Navarros raw howl. Their music is most often described as pop punk, but it’s more intense than that in a live setting. They played a cover that I didn’t recognize, and closed with a new song. This gives me hope for new material soon. (Their debut LP, In a Van down By the River, came out in 2015.) I long ago found out that screaming along to Break Anchor for a half hour is extremely therapeutic. I’ve seen these guys many times, and hope to see them many more.

The size of the crowd was respectable, but the back room where the bands played was hardly packed. It felt more like a gathering of old friends, and the average age had to be around 40. (Hell, I was 180 miles from home and ran into a couple of friendly faces.) Everybody seemed to be having a good time, and there was a lot of drinking and socializing going on. This was especially obvious during the first part of Darius Koski’s 30 minute set. Koski was pulling double duty on this tour, performing both solo and with the Utters. Despite the fact that he was joined by bass and drums, his acoustic based songs were almost drowned out by the din of conversation. It got a little better when he switched over to an electric guitar. Koski is obviously a fine songwriter, and ultimately that came through. He was actually a nice break between the more bombastic bands.

Western Settings was the band that I was least familiar with. I would describe the San Diego quartet’s sound as somewhere between Against Me! and The Gaslight Anthem. Two of the guys were really handsome and were wearing skinny jeans. They used capos on their electric guitars. It wasn't really my thing, but I mostly enjoyed their 40 minute set. By this point we had been drinking heavily for a few hours, so spirits were high when San Francisco’s finest finally hit the stage about 11pm.

Swingin’ Utters on this tour included Johnny Bonnel on vocals and Koski on guitar and vocals. I’m not sure who the bass player and drummer were, but they were also Koski’s backing band. (Sorry I don’t know your names guys. You kicked ass.) The band played a little over an hour’s worth of mostly classic Utters material with Koski taking lead vocals maybe four or five times. Bonnel is still the energetic frontman, clapping and bouncing back and forth across the stage, even when he isn’t singing. There were no acoustic instruments, so all the songs were delivered in the full throttle punk style. Things were starting to get a little hazy at this point, so I didn’t even try to keep track of the setlist. When it was over, we were all very satisfied.

It’s worth mentioning that Swingin’ Utters had a really nice selection of merch. I think that had all of their albums and EP’s (on vinyl and CD), plus a couple of singles and a bunch of T-shirts, buttons etc... I had spent most of my money drinking, but I did pick up their new ‘best of’ which wasn’t going to be available to the general public for another three weeks. After the show, I spoke to the Detroit bands to encourage them to play Grand Rapids again sometime soon. Then we decided to have a couple more beers, and things got even hazier.

Our story has a happy ending. We woke up safe and sound and slightly hungover in our dumpy hotel room. The email receipt from Uber was time stamped 1:24am. The hot water was not working at the hotel, so we had to skip our morning showers and that kind of sucked. On our way out of the parking lot we saw some guys loading totes into a black Econoline. It was the Utters about ready to take off for Chicago. We thanked them for the great show and were thankful that we didn’t have to ride five hour in that stinky van.