“Hello everybody, we are Supagroup from New Orleans, Louisiana, and we’re gonna kick your ass!”
As America’s most historic and important music city, New Orleans instantly conjures a lot of musical identifiers: the birthplace of jazz, brass band culture, originators of funk and R&B, boogie-woogie pianists, zydeco stompers, Indian tribe chanters, and second line parades. What it does not necessarily bring to mind are rock and roll bands, let alone hard rock. And, on that front, allow me to tell you this: Chris and Benji Lee do not give a shit.
The aforementioned Lees – Chinese-American brothers originally from Anchorage, Alaska – are the creators and leaders of the New Orleans rock institution known as Supagroup, which has been crushing customs and eardrums well off of Bourbon Street for around two decades. Far removed from Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, The Meters, or any other archetypal New Orleans traditionalists, Supagroup owes their savage sound – and just as importantly, their snarling attitude – to another band formed by a pair of brothers, AC/DC (and no offense to hellacious howler, Brian Johnson, but I’m thinking more of early Bon Scott-era AC/DC).
The opening quote above is the brief introductory announcement you’ll hear in the featured song, ‘What’s Your Problem?’, a thrashing, take-no-prisoners tune off their 2003 self-titled album, “Supagroup.” That brash, punk-inflected 12-song set covered in blaring guitars and insolent vocals remains among my all-time favorites with which to do perhaps permanent aural damage. And while Supagroup could also stand alongside the Ramones or the Stooges, the punk elements of their sound have limits. As a reviewer of a long-ago concert put it, “For all of their ferocity, the performance was never out of control. Tightness may be one of the conventions punk challenged, but being tight isn’t bourgeois. In the case of Supagroup, tightness means the band had hot riffs, choruses you could remember, and a rhythm that moved your head, your ass, or whatever body parts were free at the moment.”
To be honest, I’m not even certain that Supagroup is still an ongoing entity. They made four ass-kicking albums for Foodchain Records from 2003 to 2011, when their discography halted, and since then their tour schedule has disappeared for months, even years, at a time. But they do still pop up – as best I can tell, most recently last July opening for Cheap Trick at the venerable Saenger Theater and headlining a Mardi Gras themed summer party at legendary Tipitina’s, both in their native city of New Orleans. I’m dying to see them. I love every bit of the typical New Orleans music, absolutely all of it, but someday I’d still really like to have the Lee brothers kick my ass.
Some serious air & split on that Lee guitar leap