Iconic Dead Boys Guitarist Cheetah Chrome Returns to His Old Stomping Ground with a Brilliant New Album
Cheetah Chrome‘s career as an iconic lead guitarist hardly stopped when the Dead Boys called it quits the first time around. He went on to lead the Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers, returning sporadically to his old CBGB band when they’d pull themselves together again for awhile back in the 80s and later, reunited Cleveland legends Rocket from the Tombs. Now based in Nashville, Chrome has made a name for himself as a producer, but he’s also a first-class if not overwhelmingly prolific songwriter. He’s coming back to town for a Dives of New York tour in the middle of the month on an excellent doublebill with edgy Nashville honkytonk singer Paul Burch. On May 15 they’re at Manitoba’s at 9ish, at the Delancey on May 17 and then upstairs at 2A on May 18 at around 9.
Chrome also has an absolutely brilliant solo album (Spotify link) out recently. Some of the tracks date from a Genya Ravan-produced 1996 session, the rest recorded in 2010 with a killer band including former New York Doll Sylvain Sylvain plus Sean Koos from Joan Jett’s band and Lez Warner of the Cult. Although originally from Cleveland, Chrome will always be associated with New York since he was such an important part of the CB’s scene in its heyday, and this album is pure oldschool seedy Lower East Side, part wickedly tuneful, expertly constructed punk, part powerpop with psychedelic touches. The first track, Sharky, rumbles along on a brisk surf beat with lively roller-rink organ paired against tersely jangly guitar. It sounds like the backing track for a rock anthem, but it works as an instrumental, especially when the bridge kicks in. Finally there’s a lingering, distorted guitar solo that eventually takes off and just when it really gets snarling, the song fades out. It’s the last thing you’d ever expect from a member of the Dead Boys.
Good as that one is, the stuff with lyrics is even better. The best song, and the closest thing to the Dead Boys (right around the time of their mid-80s comeback), is Stare Into the Night. No Credit is similar and a little faster, like an outtake from We Have Come for Your Children. Both songs take a cynical, understatedly desperate look around a Lower East Side underworld that’s been pretty much gentrified (and overdosed) out of existence. Nuthin is the most cynical of all the tracks but also the most dynamically rich: the way Chrome moves the opening hook from acoustic to electric, raising the menace casually all the way to redline, is pure genius.
East Side Story is a burning powerpop anthem with lush, rich layers of jangly, clanging, ringing, chiming guitars, Chrome’s vocals echoing the snotty desperation of his bandmate Stiv Bators on the second verse. Rollin Voodoo works the dynamics between a punchy, fuzz bass-driven hotrod theme and syncopated roadhouse rock, with a long psychedelic interlude. The album winds up with Love Song to Death, a viciously catchy kiss-off anthem, layers and layers of guitar textures and finally a solo where Chrome starts out taking his time and then going out in a smoldering, shivering shower of sparks. Chrome is the rare guitarist who never got slick and lazy, maintaining the unhinged intensity of his early years even after his technique got really, really good. Reputedly he’s at the peak of his powers as a player. If you go out to see any of these shows, you should get there early.