The opening track of the Spider Bags’ newest album, “Keys to the City,” powers and rollicks with an effervescent, childlike punk quality; it’s a Detroit garage band channeling a Saturday morning cartoon of years past.
2012’s Shake My Head is equal parts The Clash, The Specials, and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists minus the ska influence and any British accents. Instead, like their American counterpart, the aforementioned Ted Leo, Spider Bags hail from New Jersey (via North Carolina.) This, their third LP, is a collection of self effacing stories of love, relationships, and the hard scrabble existence of a blue neck, middle class life.
Principal songwriters and longtime friends, Dan McGee and Gregg Levy, didn’t follow any traditional path to forming Spider Bags. Having played together initially as teenagers, they formed a bond over weed and Jimi Hendrix. McGee and Levy were soon partying in a world were drug abuse was common. Fortunately, while some of their peers succumbed to addiction, the pair emerged relatively unscathed and proceeded to grow up. Their lives consisted of nine to five jobs, marriage, and parenthood. Rock ‘n’ roll was relegated to a hobby.
On “I’ll Go Crazy,” McGee, in a fuzzy, Dinosaur Jr. deadpan delivery, pleads “If you leave me, I’ll go crazy / If you quit me, I’ll go crazy / Because I love you too much,” but then paradoxically advises the listener, “You gotta live for yourself and nobody else” a direct contradiction of begging someone to do something for you they may not want to. If this is an autobiographical anecdote wrapped up in fatherly concern, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
Their past and indeed the world they inhabit now, go beyond just fodder for the lyrics in their songs. They are very much the impetus for this thing, playing music and rocking out, that they do. There is an everyman quality to Shake My Head, as is the case for most garage and punk music and rehab programs in New Jersey.
However, the difference here is that as an alternative to just rallying against the military industrial complex or even rattling off some cryptic, garbled nonsense on religion, Spider Bags are introspective story tellers turning drunken stories of heartache into philosophical explorations on the state of being.