Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Screamers - Live In San Francisco 1978

The other evening, I spent a charming couple of hours with two guys that are probably half my age. I encourage everyone to spend time with younger people. You get a sense that shit’s going to be ok when you’re dead and gone and it balances out the external forces-like, say the Republican party-that suggest the whole shithouse is gonna go up in flames at some point.

Maybe someday, but not in the near future if the right wing hasn’t dismantled the communication networks these youthful tomorrow makers are utilizing.

Back in the 70’s, a decade that I’m only vaguely reminded of and barely capable of speaking towards, people didn’t have such tools. Yet underneath the suggestion of compromised thinking and suburban entitlement was a group of kids who transferred their disenchantment into music, following a close blueprint from The Ramones and the Sex Pistols and building their own version of punk rock in the states.

I thought I was aware of most of them, but those younger companions I spoke to earlier, actually pointed out a band that I was completely oblivious to, confusing them with another band from the same period.

The Screamers were a synthpunk band from Los Angeles that took shape in the late 70’s. I confused them with the band The Stranglers for some reason, actively suggesting to the younger listeners that their output was not worth further examination.

I will stand by my word that The Stranglers weren’t my cup of tea, but to confuse them with The Screamers-a band that I wasn’t at all familiar with-is simply inexcusable.

One of them went ahead and ordered the Target Video of a Screamers performance while another later advised me that its quality was such that I needed to see it in order to confirm my earlier opinion.

It became clear as the video barely captured the manic performance of Tumata du Plenty as he owned the stage while keyboardist Tommy Gear eeks out massive blasts of noise that’s just as aggressive as any six stringed counterparts are.

Not only do The Screamers count as one of America’s first punk rock bands, they do so with such uniqueness that they ended up creating another genre in the process: synthpunk.

The Screamers Live In San Francisco, September 2nd, 1978 is an accidental document of what be one of punk rock’s greatest performances, it’s one of the band’s few documents available. This was not a band with a substantial recorded output, so the fact that we have one available that covers both their musical and visual prowess.

Tumata is simply eye-catching in what appears to be a bright yellow overalls normally used for work of the wet variety. And while du Plenty certainly generates enough sweat to make such attire needed, it points to his ability to bring theatrics, stagecraft and costumes to a genre that was beginning to suggest conformity in the clothing of its members. Du Plenty suggests that punk rock is wet and potentially dangerous work as he stalks the stage giving audience members a hint of instability.

His eyes lock directly with the crowd, occasionally giving way to a big grin. I’m a big fan of Jello Biafra, but I must tell you that I now know where he got probably 90% of his shtick. As a result, I feel kind of silly taking Biafra’s intimidation tactics seriously as he battled with the Dead Kennedy’s crowd. Now I know that the real threat was with du Plenty and he did battle during a time when most people didn’t even have a name for the shit they were doing.

The other members of the Screamers look helplessly out of place when considering the visual dynamic of what we later would think of as punk fashion. These are young men bound together from a strange bit of faith, knowing that what they are doing may not pay off in commercial or financial gain. Instead, this was music that would probably not be recognized for decades to come.

Even then, there’s no guarantee it would even be fully appreciated. So much time has passed and the Screamers output so small and hard to find that the odds are still stacked firmly against them just as they were in 1978.

Live In San Francisco is not only a bit of divine intervention that someone had the good sense to record the event, but the real blessing is what’s on the tape. It’s a brief document of a band that still sounds like nothing else today, true innovation forged from the basic building blocks of rock music during a time when the genre had become top heavy.

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