Monday, July 27, 2009
The Flesh Eaters are a fascinating band in the history of L.A. punk. They aren't as much a band as they are a group of musicians revolving around Chris Desjardins. Chris D. is the singer and and main songwriter for the Flesh Eaters (he wrote nearly every song in the bands catalog). He is considered by many, including myself, to not only be a punk poet but to be one of the most poetic lyricists in L.A. punk, and maybe even American punk in general (the only person who comes to mind who gives him a run for his money is Darby Crash). Chris D. knew how to get his ideas across, whether it was writing Flesh Eaters lyrics or writing for Slash magazine. The band formed in 1977 with the first wave of L.A. punk, and became a Los Angeles punk supergroup with a revolving cast of musicians including members of X, the Plugz, The Eyes, Black Randy, and The Blasters. He is a list of their releases during the original run as a "band" between 1978 and 1983.
Disintegration Nation, Agony Shorthand b/w Radio Dies Screaming, Twisted Road
This single was recorded in the summer of 1978 and was released on Chris D.'s own label, Upsetter Records (an homage to Lee Perry). This 7" contains 4 songs, "Disintegration Nation," "Agony Shorthand," "Radio Dies Screaming," and "Twisted Road." "Disintegration Nation" is one of the best Flesh Eaters songs, and one of the classic L.A. punk songs of all time. Chris D.'s vocals are in great form, the music is loud, fast, blaring, and yet has one of the catchiest melodies of the early Flesh Eaters canon. "Agony Shorthand" is another classic. The verses have the idiosyncratic guitar melody and seemingly offbeat vocals, but when the chorus kicks in it turns into a catchy punk sing along: "It's alright with me/It's alright with me" etc. "Radio Dies Screaming" fits in with the early L.A. punk scene better than the other three songs on this single, while "Twisted Road" hits at the roots rock tendencies which would emerge some years later.
Tooth and Nail Compilation
This compilation was released in 1979 on Chris D.'s Upsetter Records. The LP features songs by The Controllers, U.X.A., Negative Trend, Middle Class, The Germs, and 3 songs by the Flesh Eaters. The first two songs, "Word Goes Flesh" and "Pony Dress" were recorded for the compilation. They hint at the sound the band would take on for the upcoming debut album, No Questions Asked. These two songs are also very interesting because of the band members. Pat Garrett (Co-founder of Dangerhouse Records, drummer for the Dils, and guitarist/singer for the Randoms) plays guitar, John Doe, of X, plays bass, DJ Bonebreak, also of X, plays drums, and Exene Cervenka, also of X, contributes background vocals. Basically, all of X but guitarist Billy Zoom are on these two songs. The third song is called "Version Nation." It is a different version of "Disintegration Nation" in which Chris D. kept all of the original music but re-recorded the vocals.
No Questions Asked
This album was recorded and released in 1980, also on Upsetter Records. This was the band's debut full length. There is not a cohesive band throughout the entire album, different people play on different songs. Featured throughout the album are Joe Ramirez (of the Eyes and Black Randy's band), Pat Garrett (of the Randoms, the Dils, and co-founder of Dangerhosue Records), John Richey (of the Eyes), John Doe (of X), "Maddog" Karla Barrett (of the Controllers), Joe Nanini (of the Eyes), DJ Bonebreak (of X), and Judith Bell (writer/artist who also did the album cover for the Gun Club's Fire of Love album). The album has fast, spastic punk songs (like "Police Gun Jitters" and "Jesus Don't Come Through the Cotton"), more straight ahead, mid-tempo, melodic punk songs ("Suicide Saddle" and "Crazy Boy"), and Chris D. and co. even dabble in reggae with "Cry Baby Killer" which clocks in at 4 minutes and 20 second, at least twice as long as any other song on the album. Every song, even the ones which are more reminiscent of what was going on around them in the L.A. punk scene, has that specific Flesh Eaters feel, with weird rhythms, weird melodies, and those signature Chris D. vocals. Considering the entire album is played by musicians with their own bands, sometimes playing with the other musicians from their other bands, to keep such a distinct sound throughout the entire album is nothing short of amazing.
AND as a bonus, the CD reissue also gives you the 3 tracks from the Tooth and Nail comp, the 4 tracks from the Disintegration Nation 7", and the band's very first demo, recorded in 1978 while Tito Larriva was still in the band (he left soon after to form The Plugz).
A Minute To Pray A Second To Die
This album was recorded and released in 1981, and unlike No Questions Asked, features a consistent band. This time around, the band consists of Dave Alvin (of The Blasters) on guitar, John Doe (of X) on bass, Steve Berlin (of The Blasters and later, Los Lobos) on sax, D.J. Bonebreak (of X) on marimbas, snare, and maracas, and Bill Bateman (of The Blasters) on drums. This album sounds NOTHING like anything The Flesh Eaters had done to date. All hints of Los Angeles hardcore are completely gone. If I had to describe it as briefly as possible, I'd have to use what a friend of mine called this album when I showed it to him, "punk rock Zappa." It is not a typical album of any sort, specifically because of the weird rhythmic patterns the Flesh Eaters are known for, and because on this album the melody (or melodious noise in some cases) are in three very different instruments: guitar, marimba, and saxophone. The combination of the three form a very unique sound, that is almost incomparable to anything else I've ever heard, however at the same time, you can hear the roots rock that this particular incarnation of the band are so deeply a part of and in love with (The Blasters were a rockabilly revival band, and X were a punk band who's roots were planted deep in rockabilly and early rock and roll). I feel like this is what rock and roll bands would sound like if I were to die and go to some Beetlejuice-like dimension.
*interesting fact: The song "Cyrano De Berger's Back" is one of the only songs in the Flesh Eater's original history not written by Chris D. It was written by John Doe way back in 1976/1977, and a very early demo of X playing this song in 1977, very differently, can be found on the CD reissue of Los Angeles by X.
Forever Came Today
This album was recorded and released in 1982. Unfortunately this album has never been released on CD, and I haven't yet found myself a vinyl copy. If I do, or if "They" ever decide to release this on CD, I will be sure to include a write up here in this section.
A Hard Road To Follow
This album was recorded and released in 1983, and was the last album to come from the Flesh Eaters' original run. This time the band consisted of Don Kirk on guitar, Robyn Jameson on bass, Chris Wahl on drums and percussion, Jill Jordan with the backing vocals, and Steve Berlin on saxophone for a couple songs. This happens to be the same band as was used on Forever Came Today, the first time in the band's 5 year run that Chris D. used the same band twice. This album is also COMPLETELY different than A Minute To Pray. It's very heavily based in roots rock this time, as opposed to just being an influence you could pick out. This makes A Hard Road To Follow the most conventional rock album of their career (although it still has that Flesh Eater's deathrock sound, it's less prominent on most of the songs). This album also features two very interesting covers. The first is "Rhymes" by Al Green, and it just might be my favorite song on the entire album. The second is "I Take What I Want" by Sam & Dave, and it features great duet vocals between Chris D. and Jill Jordan. Who knew the Flesh Eaters would be able to handle classic soul songs SO well. Besides those two tracks, the standout originals are the album opener, "Life's a Dirty Rat" and "Eyes Without A Face," which was also featured on the soundtrack to the classic punk rock zombie movie Return of the Living Dead (the soundtrack is highly reccomended, featuring bands like The Cramps, Rocky Erickson, Flesh Eaters, Damned, 45 Grave and T.S.O.L.)
The CD Reissue features 5 bonus tracks, including "A Hard Road To Follow" and "Lake Of Burning Fire" which were from the album sessions but not included on the original album, re-recordings of "Pony Dress" from Tooth and Nail and "Impossible Crime" from No Questions Asked, and a version of "Divine Horseman" from A Minute To Pray recorded live in 1982.
Hard Road was released in 1983, and later that year the Flesh Eater's broke up. Chris D. began singing in front of a new band which he called The Divine Horsemen. This band lasted until 1988, then in 1989 he released an album with a band he called Stone by Stone. By this time SST had released a Flesh Eaters greatest hits LP in 1987 called Destroyed By Fire, and Homestead Records released a life album called Flesh Eaters Live in 1988 (which I found an original copy of once in Cambridge, Mass down the street from the Middle East, but it was beat to shit and the store wanted far too much money for it, so I passed it up, which I sometimes regret doing).in 1990, Chris D. started using the Flesh Eaters name again. SST released another greatest hits package called Prehistoric Fits and then in 1991 the Flesh Eaters released their first new album since Hard Road in 1983. They have continued to release albums sporadically over the past 19 years since reforming, but they don't even compare to the revolutionary music this band made from 1977 to 1983.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The Weirdos were one of the most unique bands to come out of the first wave of L.A. punk. They formed in 1976 with the original lineup of John and Dix Denney, Cliff Roman, Dave Trout, and Nickey Beat.
Note: Nickey Beat also did stints with The Cramps, The Germs, The Dickies, and later the L.A. Guns. On top of all of that, as the reigning king of L.A. punk drumming, he filled in on drums for just about every early L.A. punk band when they needed it. At the famous Masque Benefit show at the McArthur Park Elk's Lodge in 1978 he played with at least 3 bands: The Weirdos, The Germs, and The Bags. He also got some face time on the big screen in Penelope Spheeris' punk classic Suburbia as the dorky concert promoter who stops the show when the girl gets her clothes torn off.
According to the liner notes of the CD reissue of Destroy All Music/Who What When Where Why?, the inspiration for the band came from Cliff Roman seeing The New York Dolls and the Stooges at The Whiskey A Go Go, on separate occasions. In 1977 they told Slash magazine, "We're not punks, we're weirdos from Hollyweird." They were punks though, just not playing the kind of music anyone had ever heard before. There were bands in L.A. that had a very heavy New York punk influence and there were bands who obviously worshiped the British bands but the Weirdos were just the Weirdos. Everyone who was their at the time knew immediately that they were special. The infamous Kickboy Face of Slash magazine wrote in 1978, "The Weirdos are one of the most important things to come out of L.A. for a while." Alice Bag of early L.A. punk band The Bags, said this on her website, www.alicebag.com, about the first time she saw them, "The Germs opened the show. They played horribly, but were funny and very interesting to watch. The Zeros played a rocking set, but it was the Weirdos who brought down the house. When they were done playing people were screaming for more."
Here is an annotated discography(to the best of my ability) of the Weirdos recorded output:
Destroy All Music b/w A Life of Crime, Why Do You Exist
This, the Weirdos' debut, was released on Bomp! Records in 1977. The three songs comprising this 7" EP, "Destroy All Music," "A Life Of Crime," and "Why Do You Exist" were all recorded in August of 1977, just a month after the Germs released their first single on What? Records. "Destroy All Music" is a loud, fast, and completely UN-sloppy punk rock song and the double guitar onslaught of Dix Denney and Cliff Roman was never done better than on this particular song. On top of all that the vocals are incredibly catchy. "A Life of Crime" is a little slower, and has a bit of a Stooges feel deep down. "Why Do You Exist" is even faster than the title track and the music is a bit like early Johnny Thunders but twice as fast.
We Got the Neutron Bomb b/w Solitary Confinement
This was the Weirdos second single, recorded November of 1977, and released by the legendary Dangerhouse label. "We Got The Neutron Bomb" is one of the catchiest songs to come out of the entire L.A. punk scene. Its got fast and powerful verses, and a brilliantly catchy singalong chorus all set to loud, heavy guitars, once again provided by the team of Dix and Cliff. Around the same time, another early L.A. punk band, one that has not retained the popularity of other bands like the Weirdos and the Germs, called the Controllers had a song called "Neutron Bomb." Once the Weirdos released this single and gained the attention which the song would give them the Controllers changed the name of their song to "(The Original) Neutron Bomb." "Solitary Confinement" is another great early Weirdos song that would have fit beautifully on the first 7". If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Who? What? When? Where? Why? EP
This 6 song EP was recorded in February of 1979 and released, once again, on Bomp! Records. By 1979, the band's sound had evolved along with their lineup. Nickey Beat and Dave Trout were gone, and instead Danny Benair (formerly of L.A. rock legends The Quick who had just recently broken up in '78) was on drums, and Billy Ford Persons was playing bass. On this EP they slowed down a bit and the band was incorporating more rock and roll into their songs, in fact, "Big Shot" has a saxophone and "Jungle Rock" is a straight up rockabilly raveup originally written and recorded by Hank Mizell in the 1950's (I'd like to think the Weirdos were influenced by X, The Cramps, The Blasters, and The Gun Club to venture into rockabilly). The opening track, "Happy People" and the closing track, "Fort U.S.A." are the strongest on the EP. "Happy People" is a slower version of the early Weirdos sound. It's got the two guitar attack, catchy choruses, and its loud and heavy, it just happens to not be as fast as "Destroy All Music." "Fort U.S.A." is as catchy a song as they've ever written. The chorus is a total singalong, and the guitars are very early rock/NY Dolls influenced.
Message from the Underworld b/w Teenage
From what I understand, this is their 3rd single, recorded in July of 1980. I haven't been able to find any info about this single, and what I did find was ambiguous. I found what I think is the cover art, but the liner notes to the Weird World CD lists the song "Message from the Underworld" as previously unreleased. Either way, the title track is a great song. It is very reminiscent of the original Weirdos sound but with their modern approach. I've never heard the single version of "Teenage," as far as I know it's not available on CD, but there are two demo versions out there on Weird World from 1978 and Destroy All Music from 1977. It was one of the first songs the band wrote and its snotty lyrics and loud, fast musicianship are a perfect pairing.
This, The Weirdos' second EP, was recorded in June 1980 and released on Rhino Records. It would be their last release before they broke up in 1981 (though they reformed throughout the 1980's and recorded an album in 1990, nothing after this initial breakup will be covered in this blog). The EP consists of four songs, the first of which being "The Hideout." The song is slow and very dark. There isn't much in these recordings which resemble the early Weirdos sound. This is much more of a rock song with a punk influence, especially in the drumming. The second song, "I Feel" is even more of a straight ahead rock and roll song, very much like the garage rock/powerpop thing going on at the time with bands like The Real Kids. It's a fun, upbeat toe-tapper of a rock song. Next up is a cover in which the band pays respect to L.A. legends, The Doors, not unlike the Weirdos' contemporaries X who covered "Soul Kitchen" on their 1980 debut album Los Angeles. The Weirdos take on "Break On Through" and they do it very well. Ending the album is the frenetic rock and roll of "Helium Bar." The band takes on the rockabilly sound once again, except unlike "Jungle Rock" on their first EP, this one's fast as hell. The only lyrics are "Bop to helium bar tonight" repeated over and over again but it never gets annoyingly repetitive. It's a great way to end their last EP.
Weird World vol. 1
This is the first CD which takes on the task of compiling the Weirdo's catalog. It contains bits and pieces of every release discussed above, plus 7 demo recordings from 1977-1981. It goes in reverse chronological order, and starts with 3 previously unreleased demos from March of 1981. The songs are "Weird World," "Arms Race," and "Pagan." Next up is "Helium Bar" from the Action-Design EP. After that are two songs from a 1980 demo, "Rhythm Syndrome," and "Fallout." The next two songs are "Fort U.S.A." and "Happy People" from Who? What? When? Where? Why?, however, "Fort U.S.A." is an alternate mix. Next is "Message From the Underworld" followed by "Teenage" and "I'm Not Like You" from a demo session recorded in 1978. The CD ends with both sides of their second single, "We Got The Neutron Bomb" (which is another alternate mix) and " Solitary Confinement," and "Life of Crime" from the Destroy All Music 7". This is a great compilation and covers their entire career up until the initial breakup, however, it is only 36 minutes long and that is inexcusable when there were B sides and even A sides left off this release. They could have fit at least the rest of the Destroy All Music single, the B side to the "Message From the Underworld" single, and more from the 2 EP's. As a bit of a neurotic completist, it bothers me. However, the demo tracks are really cool so they kind of make up for that.
We Got The Neutron Bomb: Weird World vol. 2
This set compiles previously unreleased live performances and studio recordings from 1977-1989. I don't own it, but it seems to contain material mostly from the original band, and only a few from the reformed, late 80's version of the Weirdos.
Destroy All Music CD
This CD reissue from Bomp! Records compiles the entire Destroy All Music single, the entire Who? When? When? Where? Why? EP, and 4 songs from their very first demo recorded in 1977. The demo songs are "Teenage," "Destroy All Music," "A Life Of Crime," and "Why Do You Exist?"
Sunday, July 5, 2009
The Germs are one of the more important bands in the history of American punk. They were part of the original wave of L.A. punk bands. The original band, formed in 1977, that performed at their historic first show ever opening for the Weirdos was Bobby Pyn (soon to be Darby Crash) on vocals, Pat Smear on guitar, Lorna Doom on bass, and Donna Rhia on drums (who replaced Dottie Danger a.k.a. Belinda Carlisle of The Go-Go's). The band's recorded output is limited. In their very short time together they recorded 2 singles, 1 album, did a session for the soundtrack to the movie Cruising, and then released on posthumous EP, almost all of which is compiled on the Rhino set (MIA): The Complete Anthology. Tragically, the band would break up in 1980. However, months later, they decided to get back back together for one more show. The Germs final show was booked at the Starwood for December 3, 1980. Darby then overdosed on heroin just four days later, and died. It was widely accepted to be suicide.
UPDATE: The legendary final Germs show was just released on Rhino Handmade.
Darby Crash was a poet and that's just one of many reasons why the Germs have never gone out of style. In fact, since its release in 1979, their album GI has NEVER gone out of print.
Forming b/w Sex Boy (Live)
This is the Germ's first single, released on What? Records (What 001) in July of 1977. This was also the first punk single released in L.A. The drums on both tracks were provided by Donna Rhia. "Forming" is a slow, sloppy punk song. It shows the band in its infancy and though they leave a lot to be desired by the musicianship and Darby's vocals were completely lacking his trademark snarl, there's something about the song that hints at the greatness to come yet still holds its own. The flip side is a live recording of a song called Sex Boy. The song was recorded at the Roxy during the auditions to be in the battle of the bands scene in Up In Smoke. The Germs were the only band not to be used in the movie. The recording is muddy, the playing is sloppy, and you can hear bottles breaking, talking in the crowd, and even cigarettes lighters. It all adds to the charm.
Lexicon Devil EP
This is the Germs' second single, and Slash Records' first release. It was released in May of 1978. The A-side is "Lexicon Devil" and the B-side is "Circle One" and "No God". "Lexicon Devil" is one of the Germs' best songs. This version of the song is slower and tamer than the version that would end up on GI. They had yet to master that fast and crunchy sound they would have on the album. "Circle One" is a guitar frenzy in which Darby sings his mission statement: "I'm Darby Crash/A social blast/Chaotic master" and "I'm Darby Crash/Your Mecca's gash/prophetic stature." "No God" is Darby crying out against religion (Catholicism specifically). The lyrics are arguably the best of his early work: "I'd pray to anything out there/As long as I was given some sign to bear/But while I wait I'm gonna live/See...there's no God to watch over me/No God for human beings"
This is the Germs' debut album. It was released on Slash Records in October of 1979. The album features 16 Germs classics in just over 38 minutes from the classic 42 second blast of "What We Do Is Secret" to the re-recorded, harder, faster version of "Lexicon Devil", and the slow(er) dirge of "Manimal." The real gem here, though, is "Shut Down (Annihilation Man). The song is 9 and a half minutes of bluesy/garage rock-y riffing. If it weren't for its length, this would be the closest thing to a conventional rock song the Germs ever recorded. Every song on this album is essential.
What We Do Is Secret
This was released in August of 1981, less than a year after Darby's death. It contains the Lexicon Devil EP, "Caught In My Eye" (an outtake from the GI sessions), "Round and Round" (a Chuck Berry cover recorded in 1977 with X's DJ Bonebreak on drums), and 2 songs recorded at the Germs' farewell show in 1980: "My Tunnel" and "The Other Newest One." Only "Caught In My Eye" and "Round and Round" were included in the (MIA) Anthology. Also, from what I've read, the version of "Lexicon Devil" is a different version than the EP and LP versions. So if you ever find a copy, pick it up. I know I will.
The Germs also appeared on a few compilations, including the infamous Yes L.A. comp released by Dangerhouse in 1979. It was a who's who of early L.A. punk which also included The Bags, Black Randy, The Alleycats, the Eyes, and X. They also contributed a track to Tooth and Nail released by Chris D.'s Upsetter Records. Lastly, they recorded 6 songs for the soundtrack to the movie Cruising. Only one was used in the movie and on the soundtrack, but all 6 are included on the (MIA) anthology.
If you ever get the chance to see reformed Germs, I highly recommend it. I saw them at the Asbury Lanes last Friday and was blown away. They are fronted by actor Shane West, who played Darby in the biopic, What We Do Is Secret. West does a fantastic job as frontman. His singing voice is reminiscent of Darb, but he doesn't do a full on impression. Pat Smear still has his magic touch, and Lorna Doom, though she doesn't move around much, looks completely comfortable on stage still and seems to still really love what she's doing. Don Bolles is a completely different story. He's goofy, funny, and cracked jokes in between almost every song. Not only was their set amazing but afterward they all hung out and took the time to talk to anyone who wanted to talk. Shane West was funny and extremely friendly. Don Bolles again stole the show for me though. It seemed as though he looked forward to meeting all of us who came out to the show, and really enjoyed bullshitting and telling us stories.
Seeing the Germs was one of the most fun experiences I've ever had at a show. I never thought I'd be able to say I saw the Germs, let alone that I met and had a conversation with Don Bolles(or Don Whatsisname as his autograph says on the title page on my copy of Darby's biography).