Hamtramck’s premier music venue, Small’s, pays homage to 90s’ alternative scene

800beloved via Facebook.
800beloved via Facebook.

Weekly series about the best local bands and venues by music critic Eric Kiska. 

Alt rockers showed up in torn fishnets, leather jackets or predominantly black attire to Small’s on Friday in what ended up being a Hamtramck homage to the 90’s alternative scene.

“Our album is called ‘Everything is Ending’ and it’s just as optimistic as it sounds,” said lead singer Christian Burke of The Last Ghost.

The Last Ghost via Facebook
The Last Ghost via Facebook

Guitarist Eric Cojocari began the night heavily using his “wah-wah” pedal, putting a funk sound on his hard rock-influenced rhythms. He was the most talented guitarist of the night as his solos topped off the highly talented four-man band. For a few minutes, they almost sounded similar to early Red Hot Chili Peppers recordings. This was only for one song, though, as The Last Ghost quickly transitioned into punk rock melodies and songs that highlighted vocalist Christian Burke’s high-pitched tenor range.

“We’re The Last Ghost, and we barely know the first ghost,” said Burke.

The Last Ghost thrives on “rehearsing in swampy basements and performing in seedy bars.” Smalls would not fall under the “seedy bars” category. It’s more of a rock-and-roll nightclub with full lights, a projector that shines shadows of the musicians behind the stage and a professional soundboard.

smalls poster
800Beloved via Facebook.

Poster art of past shows covered the walls. Smalls has hosted familiar Detroit bands such as The Von Bondies, The Hard Lessons and The Octopus Bars of Gold. The venue was close and intimate, but not so intimate that it hurt the acoustics. The sound engineer kept the audio feedback-free and set the mood for the audience to enjoy the cozy setting.

The second act of the night was the five-piece band Siamese, which sounded eerily similar to an early 90’s Radiohead. Singer and songwriter Ryan O’Rourke came on to the stage looking unhealthily pale, wearing a black leather jacket and skinny black jeans. His skin matched his ghostly voice. This was convincing for the type of music they were performing. Sometimes, you have to look the part as well as strum the part.

The audience was mostly still besides a few lone crowd members who swayed their body to the rhythm. Still, uproarious applause followed each song. It was a grateful crowd; some types of alt rock are just difficult to dance to. Most of the sets were a short and refreshing 30-minutes long, just enough for each band to give the audience bite-sized portions of local talent.

The headliners were the three-piece metro Detroit act, 800beloved, which is releasing a new album soon. Led by singer and guitarist Sean Lynch, they say their name is from an 800 number that “hints at the merger between two opposing themes – ‘800’ representing the interest in popular culture’s flimsiness while ‘beloved’ alludes to the lyrical use of sacred, often dismal and ironically naive subject matter.”

They were the lightest band of the night, but held the largest following. They skillfully strummed a sound that hints more at indie-pop than alternative rock, although they gathered influences from the ’90s alternative scene, just as every band that played this night.

Smalls is in a highly-cultural neighborhood. For awhile, it’s been the premier place to see music in Hamtramck. It was also recently voted “the best sound and lights” for metro-Detroit music venues by the Metro Times. Check out their website to see their upcoming music schedule.

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Eric Kiska

Eric Kiska graduated from Northern Michigan with a BS in English and writing and minor in art and design. He’s also a former video editor at Detroit Public TV.