Don’t go near a Fireballs of Freedom show unless you’re damn good and ready to have your notions of rock dropped, spindled and mutilated. See, I used to think that rock was an essentially simple matter of manipulating the arrangement of verse, chorus, bridge, “breakdown” (as in, “OK, break it down now!”), and bitchin’ solo with a clever and deft choice of key and rhythm changes. That’s all fine and good, but the Fireballs are something altogether more challenging. It’s like their name, man; imagine that you see an actual ball of fire coming at you. At first, you think, “Damn, that can’t be a ball of fire, can it?” On some level, you know that flying balls of fire are indeed possible, but with your experience limited to the rich social environs of a seventh grade Dungeons and Dragons session, this object, which the mind knows to exist, the eye cannot reconcile. And just before this improbable thing strikes you, its heat manifests the fireball’s reality upon your senses, affording you the split-second comfort of knowing that you will die in just about the coolest way ever. And in the afterlife, which you can reasonably expect to be a very long line, you will be able to talk with great excitement because you witnessed something well beyond the limits of the mundane, and just before the door to madness.
Strike that last phrase; that “door to madness” claptrap is just so hard to avoid sometimes. Mr. Smetanka, who is responsible for almost all of the extant writings on the Fireballs during their rock sabbatical in Missoula, warned me about the perils of hyperbole and general ballyhoo when it comes to writing about these guys. But we really have no choice, especially when the band in question is so over-the-top awesome and raw and hard.
I imagine that a Fireballs show is a lot like an old Motor City Five show, a loud, angry howl at the Man that is at the same time a damn good time. The Fireballs got that revolutionary spirit that made MC5 so dangerous. But the MC5 cast themselves as the outsiders, the anti-Americans even down to their name, which sounded like a terrorist cell or an FBI tag. The Fireballs, on the other hand, embody the loud, contrary, revolutionary American essence. Listen to their records, The New Professionals and Total Fucking Blowout and hear the American din. Go to the show and see the red, white and blue stars on the speaker cabinets and feel the American din.
It’s hard to even think about the Fireballs without having nightmare American flashes running through my mind. Beyond the crazy and weird things I actually remember seeing them do, when I think of the Fargo Four, I see images of Peter Fonda’s starred and striped motorcycle helmet, marines on Iwo Jima, Black Panthers stalking in Watts, a fat, Las Vegas Elvis Presley on television and a lone red fireball coming down like a piece of falling sun.
Fireballs of Freedom play Saturday, July 1 at Jay’s Upstairs. Cover TBA.