Last night The Dirty Names from Annapolis played The One Stop. They were the first of two opening acts and, although 10 p.m. felt pretty late for a weeknight when I was walking in to the bar, everything about the situation inside — the occupied barstools, the all-too-empty dance floor, the band on stage strutting its way through a rocker about booze or cars or girls — all said it was far too early.
The Dirty Names — four guys still young enough to think that stuff like touring and sleeping in a band and playing dive bars (not referring to the One Stop but to a certain S.C. locale that singer Harrison Cofer described as so sketchy it was scary) — is as yet unsigned. Which means they’re on the road without benefit of a publicity team. Which means you probably haven’t heard of them.
Here’s why you’ll wish you had: They really bring it to the stage. By it I mean that thing that makes rock so great. So visceral, so pleasantly nasty, so simultaneously emotive and cool. Knowing how to play a guitar, being able to sing in pitch, writing interesting lyrics: All of these are important parts of the equation. But history has shown that all of that matters little if the artist in question doesn’t have it.
The Dirty Names have it (and the talent to back it up, too). During their set I tweeted that watching them was like seeing The Rolling Stones back when the Stones were youthful and exuberant and hot. I’ve since been questioned, like, are they really as good as the Stones? I’m not here to say that these guys are pulling off late-‘70s-era “Miss You” in scarves, velvet pants and Mariachi jackets. I would never say that.
But, the Dirty Names have serious stage presence. Cofer and Kit Whitacre have an undeniable Jagger/Richards chemistry (hopefully it’s a less destructive relationship). While the whole band feeds off each other’s energy, It’s Cofer and Whitacre, two dandies in heeled mod boots vying for the spotlight, who continually draw the eye. They preen and dance, they shimmy and take guitar solos, brandishing their instruments at crotch level, totally in control of the situation even as they half-mock the rockers who perfected those moves decades earlier.
The thing is, these moves — the Mick Jagger strut, the James Brown sashay, the Jim Morrison snarl — these aren’t just bits of choreography but iconic gestures that let the audience know what’s happening. This is mayhem, this is late-night, this is the time to let go of inhibitions and give in the darker, wilder id.
Highlights of Wednesday’s show included the roadhouse-gritty “Cadillac (She Moves),” with full-band backing vocals and the honky tonk “I Don’t Care” with the line, “I ain’t a small talker and I ain’t good with words. Going down to the city, gonna mess around with girls.” Though it was a small crowd for the opening act, the women in the club were on their feet by that point.
The Dirty Names finished their set with “Salt Water Jackie.” The video for that song recently won an award, and the sexy, sweaty vocal paired with blistering instrumentation does lend itself to cinematography. But onstage, under lights and enhanced by liquor and hair flipping, the song holds up. Because, all though the Dirty Names have the looks and presence for video, it’s readily apparent that within their skinny chests beat the hearts of rockers.
Watch a short video from the band’s Asheville performance: