It's odd that so many respected rock critics have championed Pittsburgh's Iron City Houserockers. The band will never get hits like the Pirates, and though they may rock their fans as hard as the Steelers, the Houserockers are basically nothing more than a competent bar band charting a deliberate course between Mickey Spillane toughness and Chicago blues machismo. The problem is that it's the writing, not the living, that comes across.
The Houserockers, who appeared at the Bayou last night, explore roots that extend from early Bob Seger and the factory-town anguish and anxiety of Detroit to the bleak modern industrial vision of Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. A lot of other, far less known bands are also exploring this territory, and if lead singer Joe Grushecky's vision is somewhat narrow, it is at least focused. Pittsburgh's Chamber of Commerce has its work cut out if it intends to overcome the group's harsh portrait of Steel City as Desolation Row.
Musically, the Houserockers are merely competent. Brushecky's voice, which growled forcefully at the show's start, lost its insistence halfway through the set, at which point the band settled into a typical bar band stance lacking highs or lows. The Houserockers provide good drinking music and between beers, one can accept the reality factor in their lyrics. That isn't enough to elevate them to a new role as America's Clash.