It's 4 p.m. in Portland. That's a bit early for Mike D.
He played four shows yesterday, three acoustic solo performances and one raucous bar gig with the band he fronts, I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in The House. "It wears your voice out," he says, and the strain is audible.
I Can Lick Any SOB hits the tour trail pretty hard. Five months a year, the guys are on the road. Twice a year, they cross over to the East Coast. Four or five times a year, they travel up and down the other. "The van is getting tiresome," Mike D says. He hates being away from his wife and child. But he's facing 13 shows in 14 days (one of which is at our own Atomic Cantina) with some kind of determination. I Can Lick Any SOB "hasn't really cracked" Albuquerque—yet.
"We haven't worked it as hard as we work some other markets, and we intend to," Mike D says. He's an upfront guy, the perfect front man for a no-holds-barred, sweaty bar act like his. With its raw, gristly country rock, I Can Lick Any SOB is one of the few bands these days to carry a left-leaning political torch without timidity.
The band stamps out its message, unyielding and specific. "We're not going to be playing any Republican National Conventions anytime soon." Mike D's songs spout off against guns, against Bush and Co., against the homophobic preacher/protester Fred Phelps. "It's my only sense of control, doing this kind of stuff," he says. "Every once in a while, you'll get a 'fuck you' coming out of the crowd." But plenty of folks know where he's coming from.
It's serious work—work the band’s name doesn't always reflect. Sometimes the group gets lumped in with the sillier side of rock or country because of its moniker. When the project hit the road, Mike D knew he needed a title that was different from all the “The Somethings” out there. Promoters see a lot of press kits coming across their desks. "With a big, stupid-looking name, people tend to open [the kit] up for the freak show value of it." It's a burden at times, too. It probably pisses off the people who have to put it on the marquee, he laughs.
Maybe there was a day when Mike D really could lick any bastard in the building. D served in the 101st Airborne in the ’80s and was a boxer in the army. He got out in ’84 and traveled to Vegas to go pro on the boxing circuit. "After a year at that, I realized I was never going to be anything more than mediocre," he says. He was dedicated. He worked hard. When he realized it wasn't going to work out, he turned that focus to music and tried his hand as a drum technician for Slaughter. He learned the business from a hair-metal perspective, though his ears were tuned to folk/country songwriter types.
Then there was Poor David's Club in Dallas, an intimate venue renowned in songwriter circles. D loves those Texan bards. He rattles off a list of influences, including the likes of politico songwriter Steve Earle, that says as much. Five years ago, in his late 30s, he founded I Can Lick Any SOB with a bunch of guys who were barely old enough to get into bars.
But never mind the age disparity. "When good bands come together, it's kind of magical, like meeting the person to fall in love with and marry for 50 years. When you find the guys you can live in a van with for months at a time, it's an amazing thing, like falling in love."