While the rock world these days feels like it’s casting aimlessly about, waiting and waiting and waiting for the next Next Big Thing to show up and save its sorry ass, you can rest assured that, in every city on the map, there’s a damn good garage band: a group just banging out sloppy, three-chords-and-the-truth rock ‘n’ roll, a band of true believers who still think rock ‘n’ roll really can help save your life. And thank god.
In the Kansas City, the Bindlestiffs are that band. A rootsy three-piece who make one hell of a joyous noise, the Bindlestiffs (a synonym for more than one hobo) have been around long enough now to know a thing or two about the importance of “just” playing rock ‘n’ roll. Back in the ’80s, singer-songwriter-guitarist Mike Niewald and bassist Cory Corbino were in the K.C. band Absolute Ceiling; they formed the Bindlestiffs seven years ago with Wiley (just “Wiley”), the former drummer of San Diego band the Crawdaddys. All the while they have been driving the white line, playing and recording, working toward a record deal, coming oh so close, then feeling burned when it all blew up in their face.
“We were really close to getting signed there five years or so ago,” Niewald says, “but then it turned into legal hassles and negotiations and waiting for phone calls that didn’t come, and it really left a bad taste in our mouths. So now we just want to make music.”
To that end, Niewald went the DIY route and started his own label, Roadhouse Records, which has now released two Bindlestiffs discs, both produced by legendary Missouri roots-rocker Lou Whitney (Morells, Skeletons). “Lou is the old man,” Niewald says affectionately. “He keeps it simple, as little production as possible, which is just perfect for us.”
Their latest, 13 Fl. Oz., is the band’s best yet, raging through moments of CCR twang, Green On Red guitar noise and Flamin’ Groovies pop-rock, all held together by Niewald’s raw, earnest rasp. It’s distinguished by songs that alternately fight for freedom (“No Safe Haven”) and learn how to find it the here and now (“Walk With The King”, “Garden Plot”). Start to finish, it’s a flat raucous blast, always defiantly uninterested in whatever’s supposed to be hip this week, or next. Like the best garage rock, it gets better the louder you turn it up. It’s just rock ‘n’ roll, man.
“You can lose your life waiting on some kind of acceptance from the industry,” Niewald says. “I’m just gonna make good records, the best I can do. And I’m making music with my buddies, Cory and Wiley, just a monster rhythm section. That’s what it’s all about.”