McCarty is arguably the most popular player on the Detroit Red Wings team. Though not statistically near the production of Steve Yzerman or Sergei Fedorov, McCarty is beloved for his toughness, clutch performances against the hated Colorado Avalanche, and enthusiasm he brings to each game. Darren McCarty could perform as a synchronized swimmer and sell-out any place in Michigan.
When Streeter‘s Ground Zero nightclub promoted his band Grinder for a gig on Friday, September 13th, a packed house was guaranteed. I doubt ten of the people attending had ever heard McCarty sing or even cared if he could carry a tune. Since long-time Red Wings captain Yzerman is out until 2003 with an injury, Darren McCarty is the people‘s choice. Whether it is riding his Harley, raising his arms deliriously after scoring a goal, working for his cancer foundation, or bouncing around on stage to the backdrop of head-banging rock music, McCarty has a passion for life that is infectious.
I purposely avoided talking about hockey in my interview with him. During this training camp, the Stanley Cup champion Wings have been bombarded with sportswriters seeking interviews on endless hockey minutia. I wanted to see how serious he was about music - he seemed to appreciate it. Growing up near Windsor, Canada, McCarty was a big fan of the Detroit music scene in addition to being a Red Wings devotee. Today, besides performing as the lead singer for his own band, he hangs out with Kid Rock and other famous rockers back in Detroit while somehow finding time to play a little hockey.
He worried about “screwing up“ when Grinder first got together four years ago to do a benefit for the Red Wings tragically injured in a limo after the 1997 Stanley Cup. Now, with 20 gigs or so under his belt, Grinder‘s lead singer has no problem with confidence. He would love to continue his music career after retirement from hockey.
He warned me that the show would be loud, generate a lot of energy, and everyone would have a good time. He was right on all counts. As I looked around the audience that night, it was possibly the most diverse crowd of all time to see a rock performance. Teens, soccer parents, grandparents, eclectic music aficionados (usually seen only on the jazz or blues scene) and most of all - hockey fans attended. Songs from the MC5, Stooges, Clash, Motorhead, and Rolling Stones were cranked out at head-pounding decibels.
If you were at Streeters for the show, it probably seemed like Bizarro-World. Everything was upside down and backward with dozens of Darren McCarty-wannabe‘s of all shapes, sizes, and genders - in Red Wings uniform number 25. Yet, the real Darren McCarty was out of uniform and on stage doing a very convincing impersonation of a rock star.
You also got the feeling that many of the older people experienced their first rock concert at the hands of Darren McCarty, of all people. The hard-driving music blasted those of us near the front so intensely I found myself losing balance from leaning forward at the end of each pulsating song. Some of the younger fans formed a mosh-pit in front of the stage while the 60-70 year old reluctant converts to heavy metal were looking at one another uncomfortably, thinking, “That is Darren McCarty?“
Before seeing him perform, I imagined McCarty would probably be a decent singer with no stage presence. Nothing could be further from the truth. His voice never moved up or down - he just yelled one note to different lyrics - very loud lyrics. His stage presence was amazing, though. From the beginning, he grabbed the mike and strutted around the stage, effortlessly, like a peacock. Sweating profusely without a shirt, McCarty crooned to his fans like a cross between Mick Jagger and Sylvester Stallone (thus his rock nickname - Mac Jagger).
Women were crowding around the stage, each hoping she would be the one asked to come on stage and dance with her hero, ala Bruce Springsteen. It is hard to pick just one when you are Darren McCarty so he asked them all on stage - at least until there was no more room. Singing amid the dancing beauties gazing at him adoringly, Darren McCarty must have been pinching himself. He is truly living a dream.
McCarty couldn‘t resist injecting hockey into the show as he rebuked a Streeters‘ bouncer who was rumored to be an Avalanche fan. To the music of “I fought the law and the law won“ He sang, “I fought Lemieux and I won. I scored on Roy and we won.“ It was a high point of the show - the crowd loved it.
The final song was even punctuated by a savage beating given to a guitar by Grinder lead guitarist Billy Reedy. Though he didn‘t get to smash his tambourine, Darren McCarter put on a great show at Streeters and as usual - had more fun than anyone else in the house.