“Pioneers of Punk” In San Francisco

August 14, 2008

I went to San Francisco recently to approach a couple of bands and attend the “Pioneers of Punk” event at The Fillmore, which took place on July 26, 2008.  Having gone to the first “Pioneers” show at the same venue last year, I knew what to expect.  In fact, it was almost the same band line-up as last year.  Nonetheless, I was very excited to see my 2 favorite SF Punk bands: The Avengers and The Mutants.  Adding to the appeal of the night was never-before-seen concert footage from the legendary Target Video.  The big question that I kept asking myself throughout the night was: “So, why is Flipper headlining over The Avengers for the second year in a row?”

“Pioneers of Punk” Band Recap (in order of appearance):

1.) TARGET VIDEO 

Amazing live concert footage from the late-70’s and early-80’s that lasted for an hour.  Too many classic Punk bands to mention.  I vividly remember watching The Nuns with co-lead singer Ritchie Dietrick commanding the stage during “Child Molester” and “Decadant Jew” (For some reason, I always thought that Dietrick played a subordinate role to Jeff Olener in The Nuns…Boy, was I wrong) and former-Noh Mercy singer Esmerelda doing her borderline avant garde staple “Caucasian Guilt.”  What a treat.

2.) NEGATIVE TREND 

As a teenager, I was exposed to this band through my interest in singer Rik L. Rik.  Rik was supposed to be the “New Iggy Pop” and he recorded a handful of songs with Negative Trend as his backing band.  These recordings ended up on the “Tooth and Nail” (1979 – Upsetter Records) and “Beach Blvd.” (1979 – Posh Boy) compilations, both of which I still listen to on a regular basis.  Negative Trend were a fine-yet-surprising addition to the line-up, but original singer Rozz was nowhere to be found, which was disappointing for me.  Rik, on the other hand, was probably watching them play on a giant flatscreen TV from that big house in the sky and thinking to himself, “I wish I were there singing those great songs again.”    

3.) THE MUTANTS 

I’ll never get tired of this band.  3 lead singers (Fritz, Sally & Sue) and song arrangements that make Barry Manilow look like a novice.  I’m gonna go “on-the-record” and make a couple claims here: Fritz Fox is one of the greatest and most unique vocalists to come out of U.S. Punk and Brendan Earley is one of the most underrated guitarists to come out of U.S. Punk.  I’m dead serious about that.  On a sad note, this may have been Sally Webster’s last performance with the group, so I feel fortunate to have been in attendence.  We seem to be living in the “New Dark Ages” again, so let’s hope that Sally stays in the mix for future shows, etc.

The Mutants

The Mutants (from left to right): Dave Carothers, Brendan Earley, Sue White, Paul Fleming, John Gullak (face hidden,) Fritz Fox, Sally Webster

4.) THE AVENGERS 

One of the best performances I have seen from them since they got back together about 10 years ago.  Penelope Houston is simply amazing and inimitable – she always has been and always will be.  Greg Ingraham still plays guitar with more fire and passion than any pimply 15-year old who just discovered The Ramones.  Greg was playing his black Les Paul through a Marshall JTM reissue on this night because his blackface Fender Bassman needs new capacitors.  The Marshall JTM worked just fine, but nothing beats the piggyback Bassmans in my mind.  Regular drummer Luis Illiades couldn’t make the trip from New York, but the fill-in drummer, Cary Lascala, did an excellent job.

The Avengers

The Avengers (from left to right): Greg Ingraham, Cary Lascala, Penelope Houston, Joel Reader

5.) FLIPPER

Alright, I will admit…Flipper is a good band and “Generic” (1981) is a good album, but the key word on which to focus is “good.”  Flipper has no business headlining over The Avengers for so many reasons.  I will admit that Flipper had some “artillery” working in their favor though.  First, Krist Novoselic is now the full-time bass player (Yes…the really tall guy from Nirvana) and, secondly, the promoter of this event was, in fact, Flipper’s drummer.  So, you do the math.  Flipper was “good” enough for me to NOT walk out on them this time and it was fun to see Klaus Flouride (Dead Kennedys…or is it now The Fake Kennedys?) join in on bass for “Sex Bomb.”

Overall, this was a very worthwhile and entertaining event for anyone interested in the origins of San Francisco Punk.  San Francisco is one of my favorite cities, so no complaints from me about having to make the trip.  The big changes from last year’s “Pioneers of Punk” show were: (1) Negative Trend in place of No Alternative, (2) No Chip Kinman doing Dils songs with No Alternative and (3) Neil Hamburger taking over emcee duties for the late Dirk Dirksen.  I tell ya, that Neil Hamburger has one of the best hairstyles known to man and he did a fine job filling in for Dirksen.  As always, it was great for me to see Penelope Houston and Greg Ingraham again.  I’ve known Penelope and Greg for several years now and they both mean a great deal to me, on a musical and personal level.  I’m normally not a “Can I take my picture with you?” kind of guy, especially with artists I’ve known for such a long time, but I made an exception this time around with Penelope and Greg.

Chris Cormier with Penelope Houston

Chris Cormier with Penelope Houston

 

Greg Ingraham with Chris Cormier (Yes, self-taken photo with the Blackberry.)

Greg Ingraham with Chris Cormier (Yes, self-taken photo with the Blackberry.)

Some interesting things to mention…

While speaking with Penelope at the After Show party, a very cool thing happened.  Krist Novoselic came up and introduced himself to us.  Apparently, Krist and Kurt Cobain were big fans of The Avengers and, in particular, the record label that released the lion’s share of The Avenger’s material, including the must-have “Pink” album (1983) – CD Presents.  Honestly, it was surprising for Penelope and me to hear the words “CD Presents” come out of his mouth (I won’t go into the details here,) but I must say that it was an absolute pleasure meeting Krist.  It was plain to see that he is still passionate about music and that he and Kurt grew up listening to the right records.  On top of that, Krist was extremely nice and easy to talk to.  Krist mentioned that he is recording a new record with Flipper and that it should be available sometime in the near future.  I say, “Thank you Krist Novoselic for being such a nice guy.”  I might even be willing to say that I like Nirvana now…we’ll see.

Ahh…The Fillmore…Bill Graham…the history… 

While catching up with Michael Belfer (Guitarist: The Sleepers, Tuxedomoon) at the After Show party, something downright WRONG happened.  The “Security” was trying to get all the “unauthorized” people out of The Fillmore and happened to notice that Belfer was not wearing a laminant (like the one I’m wearing in the Penelope photo above.)  They asked him to leave and Belfer kindly acknowledged their request.  Apparently, he didn’t move fast enough, so the “Security” grabbed him and started to shove him toward the stairs leading to the first floor.  Belfer demanded, “Get your hands off me,” as if he were about the knock one of them out, but managed to keep his composure.  He tried to explain that his ride home was at the After Show party with him and that he would leave as soon as he found her; Belfer’s ride eventually came to see what the commotion was all about.  Well, the “Security” wouldn’t be reasonable and about 4-5 of them ganged up on Belfer, roughed him up a bit and then pushed him down the stairs like he was a piece of trash or some drunk, homeless hooligan.  I kept shouting at them, “Leave him alone!!!  He’s cool!!!”  Shame on The Fillmore for allowing this to happen.  Now, here’s the capper: right before the “Security” so rudely interrupted us, Belfer was telling me that he is in the process of moving back to friendly San Francisco from LA.  Ahhh…the irony.  Welcome back to San Francisco, Michael.  They missed your awesome guitar playing and producing skills.  Yes, I know that I put Security in quotations…I think for obvious reasons.

Yours truly,

Chris Cormier

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