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By Erin Sherbert
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To quote writer Ian Christie's authoritative and immensely entertaining history of metal, Sound of the Beast, "Emerging like the monolith in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey ... Black Sabbath was as irreducible as the bottomless sea, the everlasting sky, and the mortal soul." Leaving sunny optimism to those who clung to the wilting remnants of '60s flower-power rock, Sabbath set the bar of heaviness high for countless bands that would follow suit and help provide a new soundtrack for the disaffected (and, yes, often wasted) youth of the Western world.
As the 1970s progressed, different outfits twisted the metallic template laid down by Sabbath, expanding the genre into a diverse and many-headed beast. Fellow Birmingham blokes Judas Priest added speed, a twin-guitar attack, and the unearthly screams of singer Rob Halford to the equation; Motörhead and AC/DC applied volume and aggression, injecting new life into tired Chuck Berry riffs; and Thin Lizzy mixed in complex harmonized guitar leads and the soulful Irish poetry of Phil Lynott.
Though routinely lambasted by critics as macho and puerile, the fist-pumping songs of the '70s became the foundation for classic hard rock radio and are still devoured by audiences. It's as if these bands were conducting experiments: They would take pop hooks that pleased the ear and try to increase the production of endorphins in the brain through sheer volume.
Judging by their continuing impact, these scientists of hard rock succeeded.
In channeling two-fisted power rock with such conviction, Dirty Power is effective at least in part because the band arrived at its sound organically. The guitar-centric tunes of the '70s definitely played a role in forming their musical tastes -- Goodwin's older brothers took him, at the age of four, to see KISS in concert -- but the members brought a diverse range of decidedly unmetallic experiences to the table.
The two guitarists arrived at my house for an interview dressed in the same camouflage shorts, jeans, and T-shirts they might wear while playing onstage. Goodwin looked the part of the seasoned rocker with his close-cropped hair and longish goatee; skin art paid homage to the Beatles and KISS with a tattoo of a Sgt. Pepper's logo on his left arm and images from the Unmasked album cover on his right. The sharp-featured Perrone, on the other hand, couldn't have looked more like an unassuming regular guy (until, of course, he has a screaming Gibson SG in his hands). The pair laughed easily at and with each other as they discussed their influences and the history of the band.
Having served as lead guitarist in the pioneering queer core act Pansy Division, Goodwin boasts the highest-profile resume in the band. Onetime skater Ulman cut his teeth on punk, metal, and industrial sounds, but somehow ended up playing bass with Marin roots-rockers ING. Perrone and Potts anchored Planet Seven, a surf combo that intertwined elements of punk and space rock into their wave-riding soundtracks.
Surprisingly, Planet Seven acted as a catalyst for Dirty Power's formation in late 2000. "For the last three or four gigs that Planet Seven played, we had Patrick filling in on bass," Perrone explained. "He and Jeff had known each other for about 10 years prior to that. When Planet Seven broke up, we still had the same rehearsal space, so we all started fooling around with stuff."
That stuff included one completed song Goodwin brought to the table along with a few germinating ideas. Bass player Ulman, another friend of Goodwin's, was soon brought into the fold. The jam sessions quickly headed in a harder direction. "Patrick would show us something that could have been written by the Posies, and we'd all go, 'Uh ... lets play that thing that sounds like it's from Sabbath Volume 4 again!'" remembered Perrone with a grin.
A series of benefits highlighting the plight of local musicians during the rampant rehearsal-space closings of the dot-com era, the "One Night Stand" concerts at Slim's gave ad hoc groups a chance to play covers of their favorite songs. Though one of the ideas behind the evenings was to bring together people who weren't already in working bands, the foursome's indeterminate status helped them sneak past that restriction. The first song the quartet played in public was the Thin Lizzy anthem "Jailbreak." Then "C'mon C'mon" by Cheap Trick, "Unchained" by Van Halen, and AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock" rounded out their "One Night Stand" repertoire. According to the guitarist, "That's kind of when we figured out we were a band," Goodwin said.
Settling on the moniker Dirty Power (an electrical term for an energy source that has irregular voltage), the crew continued to develop original material, genuflecting at the altar of rock gods such as Sabbath, Lizzy, AC/DC, and Motörhead but never resorting to the wholesale appropriation. After the band's first real gig, at the Eagle, Bottom of the Hill owner Ramona Downey extended an open invitation for the band to play at her club.
Another early supporter was local punk impresario Sluggo, aka Douglas F. Cawley. A musician in his own right, the Boston expatriate befriended Goodwin during the early '90s. As he recalled in an e-mail, "At first, I was reasonably impressed, though not any more than I had expected, knowing Patrick. Then I saw them at the Bottom of the Hill and noticed a lot more good songs.