THE DATSUNS with the SIGHTS at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), tonight (Thursday, March 27). $12.50. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
austin, texas - along with cheap mesh-backed trucker caps, the big fashion statement at SXSW was the ironic display of cheesy classic rock and hair metal band logos on T-shirts, patches and buttons. The members of New Zealand's Datsuns seemed to fit right in.
Only the more I spoke with the 20-something rock 'n' roll roughnecks recently hailed by the NME as the year's best live band, the more it became clear that drummer Matt Datsun, proudly sporting a late-70s-era Meatloaf screened on his chest, was not wearing his naff rock signifyers with a knowing wink. Neither was singer Dolf de Datsun, in a vintage GWG denim jacket embroidered with the Rush nude-dude-in-pentagram cover image from 2112 on the back beneath a large Rainbow patch.
This wasn't an attempt to look hip. The Datsuns, self-confessed hicks from the sticks, were merely flying their colours. That's an important distinction between the way the Datsuns approach 70s-style riff rock and that of many of their contemporaries looking backward for inspiration. What might be ironic to some is a matter of authenticity to the Datsuns.
"Coming from a small town like Cambridge, which has about 11,000 people," explains Dolf de Datsun over a blackened chicken salad, "we were sort of isolated from the popular trends in England and America. So our influences were less hip than, say, those of the guys in D4 who grew up in Auckland. We'd be into Ted Nugent and they'd be into Johnny Thunders.
"Yeah," chimes in guitarist Christian Datsun, "so while we might play Cat Scratch Fever at our sound checks, they're more likely to do Pirate Love. Most of the records I got were from the local shop - whatever classic rock looked good for a dollar, like that Rush record with the bird on it (Fly By Night)."
Judging by Dolf de Datsun's unmistakable Bolan-esque warble, their influences are not strictly confined to the Rainbow, Rush, AC/DC and Budgie records they managed to scrounge in Cambridge. There's definitely some T-Rex involved, too.
"We used to rent this T-Rex video collection of Top Of The Pops appearances," concedes Dolf, "and watch it all day long. It's amazing! The last time we were back home I went back to that same video store to see if they still had it, and they did! It turns out we were the only people who ever rented it, so they sold it to me for $5. I still watch it all the time."
"The other video we used to watch regularly was the California Jam Concert with Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and ELP," adds Christian. "That's the coolest thing!"
"Oh yeah, California Jam," smiles Dolf. "I think that was the show where Deep Purple set the record for the loudest performance ever."