It's somewhat bemusing to me that there are people who are alarmed and offended by the very name of Elvis Hitler, the Detroit hardcore band that performed Tuesday evening at the River Rock Cafe. What are they bothered by? The fact that the image of the King of Rock 'n' Roll is conflated with that of the great dictator? Or does the blasphemy lie in the fact that Herr Shickelgruber's name is mentioned at all?
It's safe to say that all this hand-wringing misses the point. Elvis Hitler is not a front for skin-heads or neo-Nazis. If anything, Elvis Hitler stands for that corrosive brand of antinomian bohemian satire that fascists particularly hate.
Elvis Hitler's performance was bracing, energetic and witty. Here's a band that follows in the tradition of such avant-rock pundits as Eugene Chadbourne and the late, lamented D. Boone of the Minutemen -- clearly marginal in their relation to the mainstream, but seething with pointed intelligence. The controversial sobriquet denotes both the band and its lead singer, a pudgy, flat-topped kid who like so many Detroiters has hillbilly roots, and whose songs -- fave raves like "Cool Daddy in a Cadillac," "Ten Wheels for Jesus" and "I Love Your Guts" -- consequently resonate with a certain Appalachian mythos.
Here is a band with some learning and sophistication, qualities that are lost to a great many of their young hardcore fans. For instance, "Green Haze," their parody of the Hendrix totem, quotes Wes Montgomery's "Four on Six" amidst its fed-back textures, a surprising reference to the bop guitarist that makes a weird sense in the middle of a Hendrix tune.
Elvis Hitler is the kind of band that makes the underground worthwhile, even necessary. They represent the id of the American soul, and we need such troubadours, obscure and vilified as they are, if just to keep rock 'n' roll's promise to be an outlaw music that will speak an occasional awful truth about our national life.