The Greenhornes
w/the Sights, Shake City, Holy Ghost Revival

Wed Nov 13, Crocodile, $7.

Race riots, a sagging economy, bungling city government, elevated crime rates, full-fledged white flight... ah, good ol' Detroit circa 1967, yeah? Nope--we're talking about Cincinnati in 2002. Once considered the jewel of the Ohio River, Cincinnati is supremely fucked--they don't call the place "Porkopolis" because of the pig factories anymore. But we all know what a little urban decay did for music in the Motor City. Detroit's hallowed garage-rock legacy, born from the raucous howl of disaffected lower-middle-class white kids destined for life on the assembly line, has long overshadowed Cincinnati's staid music scene just 200 miles to the south.

Now that Cincinnati has gone to hell, the prospects for establishing its own musical identity, à la Detroit, are certainly a lot better. However, the good people of the city have delayed such a rock renaissance by overlooking the Greenhornes, a band that had been frantically waving their gritty garage-rock flag in Cincy for six years to criminal underappreciation. Like a long-suffering girlfriend realizing she's being taken for granted, the quartet began sneaking out of town for some good lovin'. Embraced by the far more appealing Detroit, which cherished and nurtured them with rabid fans, packed shows, and heightened exposure, they felt confident about themselves again.

All that love has culminated in their dynamic, self-assured third album, Dual Mono, truly one of the most genuine discs to emerge in this New Age of Old Rock 'n' Roll. Firmly rooted in the British Invasion R&B/blues tradition of the Animals, the Stones, the Kinks, and the Yardbirds, the band's got great, soulful songs with immediately catchy, hip-shakin' fuzz-rock hooks. Plugged into one another like they've played together for 30 years, the Greenhornes somehow make old sounds feel fresh in a shtick-free, uncontrived way, with music loose and spirited enough to suggest the album was done in one afternoon with sweaty, near-religious fervor. And given the musical zeitgeist, the group is hotter and more desirable than ever. Cincinnati's definitely gonna want them back for their very own, but it looks like it's too late--the Greenhornes have packed up and hit the road.

"It's kinda like we're laying the groundwork that we've done for the last six years all over again," laughs drummer Patrick Keeler, talking on a cell phone as he pulls the tour van up to a fast food drive-thru for his grateful bandmates--singer-guitarist Craig Fox, guitarist Eric Stein, and bassist Jack Lawrence. A week into their first headlining national tour after a couple of years supporting the White Stripes, the Strokes, the Von Bondies, and others, the band's demeanor is one of cautioned excitement.

"Certain cities it feels great, it feels like we're really on the verge of something," says Keeler. "We just do our best to show up on time and play as many shows as possible, and that's pretty much all we can do. I think if you go into it with little to no expectations, things will probably come out better than you hoped."

It definitely hasn't hurt that the group's had a major champion in White Stripes frontman Jack White. The bands have been friends for years--they formed around the same time and have played loads of gigs together (some, back in the days in front of Cincinnati audiences, numbering less than 15 people). With the Stripes' massive popularity and the mainstream's subsequent raw-rock suck-up, Keeler understands that people might be quick to categorize the Greenhornes as "neo-garage bandwagoneers," or even insinuate that they've gotten as far as they have because of friends in high places.

"Jack's done his part when necessary, coming to our shows and talking about us in the press," he says. "I'm kinda happy that it opens up another door for us, but it's not like we've been handed anything. It's been a pretty slow rise, and we've worked really fuckin' hard for a long time. I doubt that anyone would say, if there was a super-hot Greenhornes single on the radio or something, that we're 'out of nowhere' and an 'overnight success.' But you can never control what people are gonna think and say."

Though the timing seems right, it's hard to say whether the Greenhornes will sell a million albums and become the newest rock 'n' roll darlings. But they've come a long way since just being one of the Midwest underground's best-kept secrets.

Cincinnati's loss, our gain.