Labretta Suede and The Motel 6

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8 May 2019, Paisley Stage, Napier / 
By Ian Thomas

The gang’s all here: Frankenfurter, The B52s, The Cramps, and a dash of Lemmy in this raunchy rock orgy topped off by Labretta’s sexually charged performance. Her powerful vocals, go-go dance moves and gyrations are all her own. My buddy Dave’s eyes pop as she takes Johnny’s guitar between her thighs and sinks down to the ground (I think it’s a Gibson 335!) She’s on her knees, leaning back, rubbing her mic over the fretboard as Johnny grabs a stick and bangs out a firm beat on the tom-tom. That’s the climax. No smoking in here. Time for a beer.

Rewind to the top of the set and it’s Labretta’s man who’s fluffed the audience. Johnny Moon Dog’s name and appearance are clues to the vibe that’s unfolding. Johnny’s lean, tall, clad in black, with long straight hair and a fine pair of sideburns. As he banters with the audience, many of whom are obviously returning to hear this band again, he’s joined on stage by bassist, Tweedy Pie, and drummer Mark “Boot” Hill (Sticky Filth).

Tweedy’s new to the band. Sporting tiny black hotpants, fishnets, and bare twenty-two-year-old torso he looks like he’ll fit right in. Boot Hill completes the current NZ touring lineup,comfortable in jeans and a truckers shirt.

Labretta and The Motel 6 are always just four; wife and husband duo, Labretta and Moon Dog, the only constants. They’re back home, from New York, for a handful of gigs before heading to Spain for summer festival performances.

Their sound is rooted in the original rock ‘n’ roll. The musical flesh that covers the 1950s bones is a blend of punk rock, psychobilly, and metal. It’s fast-paced, reverb laden, both tight and loose in all the right places. The obvious, inarguable, and frequently used, reference is The Cramps; “married couple-lead punk-esque rock-band”. They certainly sound like they come from the same school but the thirty year separation is clear as is the geographical distance. The sound of The Motel 6 is fatter, less quirky. There are punky guitar and drum riffs but these are closer to UK – rather than US – punk. All said and done, this is Rock & Roll: Two guitars, a drum kit, lead singer, and energy to burn. The only cover of the night is the theme to Batman. All revved up and psychedelically twisted, perfectly suited to Adam West’s dance moves. Staging, sound and lighting at Paisley Stage deserve a mention. It’s a great venue.

Labretta overlays powerful vocals, and burlesque theatre. She takes the stage and the show begins for real. This is very much a Show: costumed, choreographed, well-practiced. The audience is caught relaxing in the plush sofas. Labretta challenges them to get up and dance. “I’m here in my underwear. The least you can do is stand up!” So they do. Who wouldn’t? This isn’t armchair music and Labretta isn’t someone to argue with. The set is a solid mix of fast-paced original tracks offering no respite for the fairly mature crowd. There’ll be some tight calf muscles in the morning but there are no thoughts of that tonight. The crowd’s been taken by the scruff of the neck and propelled into the workings of this sexy rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza. The absorbed energy is evident in their smiles, gestures, bellowed applause. Here’s hoping Labretta, Johnny, and the boys come again soon.

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