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  • City Slang: Music review roundup

    Send CDs, vinyl, cassettes, demos and 8-tracks to Brett Callwood, Metro Times, 1200 Woodward Heights, Ferndale MI 48220. Email MP3s and streaming links to Ricky Rat’s Tokyo Pop/Glitter People (New Fortune) 7” single highlights all that’s great about the Trash Brats guitarist, but also his limitations. The man can write a bubblegum rock ’n’ roll song to match anyone in the city and most beyond. He’s also a killer guitarist, ripping out one throwaway riff after another with reckless abandon. He’s a machine. On his own though, without Trash Brats frontman Brian McCarty, his voice doesn’t have enough strength to do the songs justice. Not that you need to have the greatest voice in the world to sing this stuff – you don’t need to be able to perform vocal gymnastics – but you do have to be able to wail the tunes out. Both of the songs on this single are great, but you can’t help but wonder how much better they would sound with McCarty or somebody similar talking the mic. Still, as they are the songs are great fun. We’re just being picky. The Paper Sound’s Trajectories is a dense, atypically dark Americana-tinged album, unrelenting and […]

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  • Detroit launches website to auction city-owned homes

    “Neighbors wanted.” That’s the message on the homepage of, a new website launched by the City of Detroit today to auction off city-owned homes to prospective buyers who pledge to fix them up and move in. “We are moving aggressively to take these abandoned homes and get families living in them again,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement today. “There are a lot of people who would love to move into many of our neighborhoods. Knowing that other people are going to be buying and fixing up the other vacant homes at the same time will make it a lot easier for them to make that commitment.” The website to facilitate the auctions went live this afternoon. The first auction is scheduled to take place Monday, May 5. Officials said in a news release that one home will be auctioned per day, Monday through Friday. Fifteen homes are available for sale on the site, a dozen of which are in the East English Village neighborhood. Any Michigan resident, company, or organization that can do business in the state can bid, according to the website. Properties will be for sale for only one day, with bidding taking place from 8 […]

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  • Tickets for Steven Spielberg, John Williams summer concert sell out in 15 minutes

    In case you haven’t heard, two of the biggest names in film, Steven Spielberg and John Williams, are collaborating to put on a benefit concert for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra this summer. In case you wanted to go- well, you’re too damn late. The DSO says tickets to the June 14 concert were snapped up in a record-breaking 15 minutes after they went on sale at 9 a.m. today. The DSO has since released this statement to fans who didn’t snag seats: Our apologies to everyone who was unable to buy tickets this morning for our historic benefit concert featuring John Williams and Steven Spielberg. Despite increasing our phone and internet system capacity for the day, a surge of hundreds of ticket buyers purchased tickets in a matter of minutes, filling the phone lines and temporarily maxing out our web servers. After a one-hour pre-sale made available to donors and subscribers at 8am, we released additional seats at 9am to the general public, including seats available for as low as $30. All seats sold out immediately. The concert program seems nothing short of top notch: Williams will conduct the orchestra as it performs some of his most iconic tunes, such […]

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  • Blowout 2014 schedule available to view now

    The schedule for Blowout 17, taking place Wednesday April 30 to Saturday May 3 in Hamtramck, Detroit and Ferndale, is available to see now. Visit to see the schedule and plan your festival. Follow @City_Slang

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  • City Slang: Trash Brats get sleazy at Small’s

    The Trash Brats hardly ever play live anymore, so each show feels like an event. Wandering around Small’s in Hamtramck late Saturday night, there’s a near-carnival atmosphere in the air. The Brats were never supposed to be taken seriously, but years on-and-off the radar have given the band the gift of respect born out of longevity. We’re not being dismissive at all. In fact, no amount of kooky faces from guitarist Ricky Rat and bassist Toni Romeo can hide the fact that these boys can play and the band writes killer bubblegum sleaze-rock tunes. The fact that the venue was packed compared to, say, a recent show by internationally known punk icons Sylvain Sylvain and Glen Matlock (which you would think would attract a similar audience) is testament to the fact that, in Detroit, the Trash Brats command a certain reverence. Before the Trash Brats took to the stage, local punks The Dives kicked off the night with a set of sincere, energetic and well-performed, if standard, punk rock. No frills (besides frontman Ron McPherson’s dapper suit), the band features members of the Junk Monkeys, the Black Mollies and the Joint Chiefs, and it drives through a set of catchy, […]

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  • Cycle 7 opens at the Red Bull House of Art

    By: Ayana Bryant-Weekes The Red Bull House of Art, a multidisciplinary and collaborative art project, relieves the stress of financial limitation or lack of tools and space so budding artists can manifest their creative dreams right here in Detroit. Six artists are selected for a three-month residency where they are provided individual studio space and materials, allowing their artistic concepts to flow freely. At the end of each residency is an unveiling and public display at the Red Bull House of Art Gallery. As show curator Matt Eaton told us in a 2013 interview, “The selection process for the current crop of artists was just the same as every round. The goal is not to find the hippest, coolest artists (though I think they are all very cool), but to find the people who may not typically have a voice.” This year, for the first time, Red Bull House of Art will showcase more than just Detroit artists. National artists from across the country in a special artist-in-residency program will have the opportunity to showcase their work to a much broader audience, and bring a national art stage to the Motor City. Since opening, 54 Detroit-based artists have been given the […]

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Brush with fate

Robert Watson pulled himself up by the hair follicles — for real

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Robert Watson with his brushes in his home barbershop.

"I'm a black manufacturer from Detroit ..." Watson begins, pulling out his brush. The leery old barber, trimming a customer's hair, cuts to the point. "How much are they?" Watson announces today's $10 deal. "Ten dollars? With the way the economy is?" the barber shoots back, eyebrows arched in an expression that says, "Are you kidding?" A cheap brush usually cost about $3, he notes. "All you got to do is put it on somebody's head," Watson tells him, handing him one. 

The no-frills barber runs it across his customer's scalp. The customer winces. "You're tearin' the skin off my head!" he yells with a laugh. 

Watson grabs the brush and runs it along the customer's hair in a gentle sweep. "How's that feel?" Watson asks him. "Feel good, don't it?" The man nods and smiles.

No sale, though. "Well, check me out," Watson says, politely, and he steps back out to the street after handing fliers to the few here. Those fliers, he's discovered, are the real source of future business. "Once people get the flier, once they get the word about it, then that's cool." Watson says. "But don't nothin' come easy, that's for sure."


Dishes are stacked in the sink. A scorched pot sits on the stove. And in this small kitchen is a barbershop.

"I always cut hair, since I was 13 years old," Watson says, standing inside his old Midtown apartment, the kind with tight turns and small rooms. "My family has always been in it. My great grandmother had a beauty shop, my cousin cuts hair. I would go to barbershops and watch barbers cut."

Soon after he cleaned up his life, his grandmother offered him an old barber chair that was sitting in her basement. He hauled it home, put it by the kitchen window and started a home business.

He advertised this new hidden barbershop by pasting advertising stickers all over Midtown's light poles. "Robert the Barber" it read, giving no address, only a phone number. Slowly he built up a clientele, customers he hopes to bring with him someday soon to a real shop in a retail space.

Then one day the idea of that curved hairbrush came to him in a flash. "I always said there could be a better hairbrush for black males in particular," he says. He prayed, he says, and a voice told him to go for it. 

So he got a two-by-four, chiseled out a shape, sawed it down to size, drilled holes for bristles, pulled the bristles from other brushes with his soon-calloused fingers, and painstakingly glued them into his new prototype. He found a company to mass-produce them, and named his new business Crown Quality Products. Since then he's traveled the country in a minivan full of brushes, selling to barbershops in 14 states so far, and walking local streets like Gratiot, going from shop to shop, trying to build a future $10 at a time.

While he waits for the brushes to catch on, he cuts hair at his home shop. Jazz and old soul play on the living room stereo. Uplifting self-help slogans on the walls are granted importance by the frames around them. A hand-painted wood sign lists prices for everything from a simple haircut and a shave to eyebrow trimming. Another gives the price for the DVDs and mix CDs that he sells. And a placard written in different magic marker colors posts the simple shop rules: No profanity and no alcohol. 

Once people discovered it, the shop grew to be like other barbershops — a gathering place, a hangout where friends meet friends and fathers bring their kids. "Oh, we get serious debates in here, especially on a Friday night or a Saturday night," Watson says. "One interesting thing is I cut whites' hair, blacks', so that's when the best energy is, and so that's what I envision having a barbershop down here, having a shop like that, that's mixed. That starts the conversation, and shows the toddlers that we're all the same."


J-Rock stands bewildered on the sunny sidewalk, frantically dialing on his cellphone. He's a barber, mid-20s, gangly and agitated, and somehow he's locked out of his own shop, Luxury Kuts, on Gratiot near Conner. And into his baffled world comes Robert the Barber.

"My man's on his way," J-Rock announces to explain his haplessness. "Damn, I wish he was here right now. He's coming to open up the door."

As he waits for his man to come with a key, J-Rock takes a brush and rubs it his head, and it's like an epiphany. "These motherfuckers cold!" the stranded barber says, speaking not of temperature but of wonderfulness. "I like these motherfuckers. Oh, yeah, yeah! I like the curve."

"I want you to have one!" Watson says, matching his enthusiasm like a good salesman. He means buy one. But J-Rock is broke because his money is locked in the shop. 

This might seem another sigh-worthy moment in a long day of slow sales, but a guy like J-Rock might be immensely helpful in the future. Buzz can generate a lot of sales down the road, and someone as enthusiastic as he is about this brush could sell them fast. He too gets a flier. Another seed is planted.

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