Motorco Music Hall
May 19, 2012
At the end of his short performance just before Red Collar took the stage Saturday, beloved Raleigh entertainer Magic Mike Casey reminded his audience of one of the most persistent rules in his craft: Great tricks have three parts. And it’s the final act that makes the illusion, not the preamble.
At the moment he said this, he had just performed two clever but thoroughly un-amazing tricks, falling far short of the intricate head games he usually delivers. The latter involved grabbing an iPhone from a member of the audience. They produced a “random” number using the calculator function, which Casey predicted upside-down on a huge banner that two volunteers raised from the stage. He then quoted the magician’s rule of threes and ripped down the banner to reveal Red Collar, who had snuck onto the stage behind it. The crowd roared its approval, ignoring the first two underwhelming performances and reveling in the reveal.
Casey’s intentional underplay mirrored the evening at Durham’s Motorco Music Hall. During the release party for Welcome Home, the excellent new LP from Durham’s favorite bar-punk band, Red Collar was supported by three acts with sets that bounced back and forth between the venue’s Garage and Showroom stages. The first two acts—Signals Midwest and Restorations—were out-of-towners who played music very much in the same vein as Red Collar. Signals Midwest imported twang into the pop-ier side of punk in songs that were fast and charming, but ultimately forgettable. Restorations were worse still, draining the life force from Red Collar’s winning formula with rote riffs and cliched heartland anthemics delivered with grating grunts.
In the penultimate slot, Durham’s Maple Stave put up a valiant but ultimately ineffective effort. Reunited for a night with San Francisco-based guitarist Andy Hull, the typically precise and concussive post-rock band muddled through in a wash of distortion and bad timing. Fumbling songs that they once spun into a deft and deafening force, Maple Stave failed to find their usual finesse.
As the curtain dropped and Red Collar lit into the first riffs of Welcome Home opener “Orphanage,” what had been a passive crowd suddenly became a jubilant mob. As Casey proved, a rewarding payoff can save a performance, and Red Collar’s final act resounded with energy and excitement. The band had the audience in the palm of its hands, and while they fumbled a few times, the near-misses only served to enhance the vigor.
Consisting of a near-even split of old and new material, Red Collar's set was full of songs shot through with rough power. "Choices," a two-and-a-half minute tantrum about a girl's unwanted pregnancy, tumbled forward in a rush of emotionally charged riffs and throaty barks courtesy of frontman Jason Kutchma. He forgot most of the second verse during "Stay," one of the band's earliest anthems, but Red Collar charged forth with such rabble-rousing momentum that the miscue was met with cheers.
Kutchma was a marvel. The spurs on his trademark boots were falling apart, and his road-worn Telecaster seemed to be more duct tape than wood. But he embraced the chaos, throwing himself at his homemade, steel-pipe mic stand and dragging himself up as he screamed about crushed American dreams and the collateral damage their failure caused.
In the last song of their encore, Red Collar resurrected "Used Guitars," the emotionally devastating ballad that has become their local calling card. With his guitar grossly out of tune, Kutchma threw it to the side, leaving fellow ax man Mike Jackson to carry the load. Kutchma flailed as much as he sang, lifting his industrial-grade mic stand above the audience and letting them shout out the chorus that everyone seemed to have memorized. It was a magic moment, a mostly broken rendition that was redeemed through sweat-soaked determination.
I've been going to Red Collar shows for five years, and I've never seen them flirt more openly with disaster than they did on Saturday night. I've also rarely found them more memorable.