Switching between being an actor, a musician and a radio host, Michael Des Barres has had a long and interesting career. You might remember him as the vocalist with 70s rock bands Silverhead and Detective. If hard rock wasn’t your thing back then, you might know Michael as the cool, scene stealing kid in To Sir With Love. Maybe you saw him get murdered in an alley in the Amicus horror film I, Monster. You almost certainly saw him fronting The Power Station during the TV coverage of the Live Aid footage. The point is that Des Barres has always been there, doing his thing.
By 2019, he returned to the rock scene fronting The Mistakes, whose ‘Crackle & Hiss’ single captured a great retro sound, injecting a little garage punk spirit into some huge swaggering riffs. The kind of number best played loudly, it placed Michael in a similar musical sphere to Duff McKagan’s extra curricular projects Neurotic Outsiders and Loaded.
The subsequent ‘Live’ EP, released in the autumn of 2020, gives listeners more of a chance to get acquainted with The Mistakes with a half dozen recordings taken from a small club date. More importantly, the track selection plays very much like a recap of the vocalist’s long career, making it a great primer for the unfamiliar.
The rendition of Silverhead’s ‘Hello New York’ comes across with a genuine force: the introductory drum salvo makes a bold statement, sounding like one of Peter Criss’s drum solos from ‘Kiss Alive II’ , and once the guitars kick in, the Mistakes’ grubbier take on an old glam stomp displays a real attitude. Over a timeless riff, Des Barres wails the title at full volume, clearly presenting a set of pipes that’ve held up well over the decades. Moving into the verse, his forceful delivery continues to give the well known track plenty of weight, but in many ways, its the sleazy guitar riff that wins out and by the time the solo hits, you’re in the presence of a band ready to raise the roof. A second dip into the Silverhead catalogue brings an equally fine ‘16 & Savaged’ where the band truly ring everything they can from a great proto-punk riff and metallic stomp. Throughout the number, Des Barres gives his all. The verses allow him to show off an impressive volume, while a quieter chorus hook shows that he’s still capable of something soulful when required.
For those who retain well-worn and well-loved Detective vinyl LPs, the slightly more groove-oriented ‘Detective Man’ will surely be the highlight with Michael wailing against a Stones-like riff, showing how this sometimes overlooked gem could easily stand alongside the era’s greats. For the more casual listener, however, a few well chosen cover tunes could just be the most effective introduction to Des Barres and his band. The bullet-proof T. Rex hit ‘Bang A Gong (Get It On)’ was a Power Station staple, so it’s more than fitting it should be reprised as part of this short live collection. Naturally, The Mistakes’ sleazier aspects give the track a much more aggressive send off than The Power Station’s best, but between a classic riff and solid vocal, it more than holds its own.
A rocked up cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ doesn’t seem to fare quite as well at first. Perhaps its that this cast iron classic – this aching plea to the world – is so ingrained within us that to hear it played in the style of a gloriously trashy glam-punk act seems almost sacrilegious. Given time to adjust, it almost becomes a different song, but sort of enjoyable in its own right. The playing is energetic; the vocals are tough, yet well suited to the job in hand but, above all – and this is the most important thing here – The Mistakes sound as if they’re enjoying every moment. It should be assumed that the audience are with them – and given the energy put into the performance, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t be.
Bringing this all too short live collection to a close, Des Barres asks the audience if they “wanna dance?”, and within a second, the band ensures that most of the venue couldn’t fail to move, by launching into a medley of old rock ‘n’ rollers where ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’ are complimented by a couple of absolutely blistering lead guitar breaks. You can almost imagine the sweat running down the walls of a basement venue. Within these three minutes, The Mistakes manage to crank up the kind of raucous, audience-baiting fun rarely heard since AC/DC appeared at the Glasgow Apollo in 1978.
Between a well curated track list and a pleasingly unrefined sound, this live release is a great snapshot of a moment in time; an enjoyable document showcasing a band who clearly love what their do. It isn’t going to change the world – The Mistakes themselves surely wouldn’t claim to be ground breaking – but as a career recap for Des Barres, it works more than effectively. If you’re a fan of old, this will be a brilliant jolt of adrenaline fuelled nostalgia. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure, dive in, crank the volume and turn off your brain, at least for a while. Michael Des Barres and The Mistakes are ready to give you the kind of distraction you need and deserve.