- The Datsuns: Idolizing AC-DC never stopped being cool.
The phrase "minor lacerations" rolls splendidly off Christian Datsun's tongue, with an audible smirk and a hint of Crocodile Dundee charm.
Christian, guitarist extraordinaire for big-shot New Zealand garage rockers the Datsuns, is describing his band's penchant for self-injury. "There's only been a few sprained ankles and bruises, and things like that," he says. "A few cuts, MINE-errr lass-errr-RAY-shuns. Nothing major to report, as of yet. If we broke something, that would probably hold us back for a few more shows, and that would be bad. So we haven't majorly hurt ourselves."
Glorifying the 1970s is violent, dangerous work. The Datsuns don't exactly make it look easy, but they do make it look highly amusing.
Leaf through a pile of fawning media profiles that's the size of a Tolstoy novel, or even pop in their self-titled debut for V2 Records, and you'll get a read on these cats real quick: Long-haired, supermodel-skinny Kiwi blokes playin' pure fuckin' rock and roll, man, complete with searing guitar riffs, macho vocals, and myriad Spinal Tap references. The critics gush, the ladies swoon, the neo-garage-bandwagoneers rejoice, and the bullshit-detecting cynical hipsters make unpleasant retching sounds.
The '70s worship is all very cute, the all-four-members-have-the-last-name-of-Datsun gimmick is very trendy ("We're brothers in rock," they explain). Ought to impress the Donnas, at least. But don't beat these guys up just yet. Go see 'em live, and watch them beat themselves up first.
Behold Swan Lake as interpreted by Guns N' Roses. A Datsuns show is an epic parade of pirouettes, high kicks, flailing arms, tooth-clenching facial expressions, and guitar-as-extension-of-phallus high jinks. Christian and his guitarist-partner in crime, Phil Datsun, mug like Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, and Michael Flatley combined, as they plow though such toe-tappin' rockers as "MF From Hell" and "You Build Me Up (to Bring Me Down)." Whether you find it awe- or derision-inspiring, hey, at least it's inspiring.
Christian is clearly proud of the spectacle -- both its intensity and spontaneity. "We don't plan anything, man," he notes. "It'd be really lame if we planned any of it. It's just us playing our show. We have no mirrors before the show which we work out our moves in front of. Choreographing moves is for ballet. It's not for rock and roll."
What makes this carrying on particularly hilarious is the crowd reaction -- the less the Datsuns get, the more out of place their histrionics become. Considering the "stand completely still, look completely bored, and for God's sake, whatever you do, don't dance" philosophy most hipster types adhere to these days, you'd think the boys would get mighty annoyed when the band's testifyin' and the crowd's yawnin'.
Frustrating? Sometimes, Christian says. "We'd rather have any sort of reaction than no reaction -- good, bad, whatever. Just have some sort of feeling about it. But a lot of times, I'm just enjoying myself too much to really care if people are staring.
"When I go to a show, sometimes I just kinda stand there and watch it, and I really enjoy it," he continues. "People react in different ways. People like to get up and shake their ass, which is totally cool by us, and then other people just like to stand there and take it in. However you enjoy it, as long as you enjoy it, it's cool. But obviously, when people are going nuts and jumping around, it's a lot more fun for the band, 'cause you can sort of feel the energy a lot more."
As for the actual tunes surrounding this circus, well, the Datsuns are neither offensive nor innovative, but they know their way around a bitchin' guitar riff, as the obscene garage-rock dirge "Harmonic Generator" readily proves. And sure, the band's meteoric rise has aligned with the "Rock Is Back" explosion, but Christian, with a calm, well-rehearsed air, politely points out that idolizing AC/DC never stopped being cool.
"For all those supposed years -- the last five or six years that rock and roll wasn't cool -- that's just a bunch of ass," he notes. "People were enjoying it and playing it and going to see shows -- it's just that magazines weren't reviewing rock and roll bands, because they were all enamored with electronic music or nü-metal or whatever. The scene hasn't changed -- it's just that we're getting more coverage now."
So yes, the "Rock Is Back" bandwagon can only help the Datsuns, and the fad's eventual dismantling is likely to send them back underground again. The gyrations will continue regardless, Christian assures us. And even if the band blows up further and hits the arena stage, don't expect any epic pyrotechnic displays -- the pelvic thrusts are bombast enough.
Evidently, drummer Matt Datsun has prior experience with explosives: "We could make our own, if we wanted to," Christian says. "But we decided we'll leave it in the hands of people who can really afford to do it. If we did them, they'd just be lame and half-assed."
Because -- as a Datsuns show proves -- when these guys make asses of themselves, it's a full-assed affair.