In 1977, future Dickies guitarist Stan Lee and his friend Billy Club decided it would be funny to start a joke punk band. Coincidentally, Leonard Grave Phillips was an aspiring prog-rock keyboard virtuoso who had the same idea. Recruiting sidemen with names like Karlos Kaballero and Chuck Wagon, the Dickies quickly vaulted over their more serious LA rivals to become the first punk band from that scene to win a major-label contract.
But Phillips' cartoony, helium-vocal sneer and Lee's fast, savage guitar riffs brilliantly nailed the snotty '70s-punk sound, and the Dickies vomited forth a series of classic single sides. Hipsters were not impressed with this "novelty act" at the time, but three decades later, the scene politics have faded, and all we're left with are the records. We can see now that the Dickies did everything their more celebrated rivals did only funnier.
The social realism of the Clash
When Joe Strummer barked lines such as, "I tried to join a Ping-Pong club/The sign on the door said 'All full up,'" he was hailed as the authentic voice of Britain's dole-queue youth. But Phillips gets no such props for kitchen-sink vignettes such as "Where'd you get it?/I got it at the store/Where'd you get it?/I can't get any more." Chances are you've never been turned away from "a Ping-Pong club," whatever that is. But who among us has not gotten something at the store? And which of us has not endured heartbreak upon learning that we "can't get any more"?
The nihilism of the Sex Pistols
Everybody knows the Pistols had no emotions for anybody else. But beneath their sunny California exterior, the Dickies matched them gob-for-gob, from "Hideous" ("It's so hard to face your face/Every time I look at you I feel disgrace") to "Curb Job" ("I'm gonna give you a curb job/I'm gonna break your face"). These chilling pronouncements would make Phillips as scary as Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys or Alex from A Clockwork Orange were it not for his ectomorphic physique and mop-top haircut.
The teenage ennui of Buzzcocks
Manchester, England's Buzzcocks sang about "Boredom" and fretted "I Don't Know What to Do with My Life." But following the writer's dictum of "show, don't tell," the Dickies embodied the shiftless, proto-slacker weltanschauung with straight-faced covers of kids' TV-show themes such as "Gigantor" and "Banana Splits (Tra La La Song)." These California kids had clearly spent hours marinating in the lowest slop that popular culture had to offer, a damning indictment of the spiritual hollowness at the heart of 1970s America or, at least, the spiritual hollowness at the heart of Saturday morning.
The ironic, '60s nostalgia of the Ramones
Cherry-picking the best of the pre-hippie '60s charts, the Ramones won plaudits for their amped-up punk covers of good-timey beach tunes "California Sun" and "Let's Dance." The much braver Dickies dove right into the deep end of psychedelic pretension to throttle the likes of "The Sounds of Silence" at high speed and their demolition of "Nights in White Satin" finally gave the Moody Blues the kicking they deserve. Punk made a lot of noise about flushing the "Summer of Love" down the toilet, but few bands had the courage to joust with the magic dragon in its own den. Jason Toon
7 p.m. Monday, June 19. Creepy Crawl, 412 North Tucker Boulevard. $16 to $18. 314-621-9333.
When B-Sides' Aunt Margaret encounters a dry pot roast, she bellows, "Tarnation!" and bashes her GE Hotpoint with a meat tenderizer. But little did Margaret know that she was ahead of the appliance-abuse rock & roll times. Today, Norway's Hurra Torpedo instills fear in the circuits of appliances the world 'round with its musical destruction. B-Sides talked trash with bassist-vocalist Egil Hegerberg.
Egil Hegerberg: Basically, our percussion instruments are all kitchen appliances. Preferably white. We use a deep freezer as the bass kick-drum. By opening and closing the lid, you get a very rich sound, better than any bass drum. And we have two or three stoves that we hit with bicycle seats, but we also use a couple of big metal wheels and some sledgehammers and a scaffolding foot.
How many performances do you get through before they're destroyed?
The deep freezer lasts longest because we only open and close the lid; it can last up to twenty performances if we're lucky. But sometimes Kristopher [Schau, percussionist] gets a little carried away, and he might unintentionally destroy something. Some of the stoves will be totally smashed each concert. They take a severe beating.
How do you get the appliances?
We send a rider to [the booker], and they figure it out for themselves. In Norway, we go to the Dumpsters, because we have a good recycling system and we can just pick up anything we like. But it's a bit harder in the States, because we don't seem to find appliances anywhere, and they're not the right size.
Are there any specific brands you prefer?
Yeah, we have a rider that describes what we want: a Freezeking deep freezer, an AEG washing machine. We find it very hard to adapt to your strange American appliances with your strange gas stoves. I don't think our rider translates very well.
Any particularly weird appliance stories?
During one concert, the lid of the deep freezer opened and a man jumped out. We hadn't noticed him being there or getting in. He was just some guy that figured he would be the hero of the night if he took everyone by surprise by jumping out. But we had picked [it] up [from] the Dumpster the same day, and there was this liquid down in the freezer compartment that didn't smell very well. After he had been in the freezer, the liquid had soaked into his clothes. It gets quite loud down in the deep freezer so he came out with his fingers in his ears and smelled very, very badly of fish, and he disappeared into the crowd and was never seen again.
When you cook, do you feel like you're in concert?
Sometimes food preparation can be a sort of half-jam-session and half-cooking, but we try to separate the two, because it gets quite expensive to break the stove every time you make a meal. Kristyn Pomranz 8 p.m. Friday, June 16. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $15. 314-726-6161.
MP3 blogs are a goldmine for free music, but few are as generous as rbally.net. Its founder, who signs himself simply "Jennings," has a passion for live indie-rock performances. His posts have included full concerts from Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, Wilco, Ryan Adams and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' recent appearance at the Coachella Festival. While you're there, check out Giant Drag's demo covers of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" and Journey's "Who's Crying Now." The site is usually updated with new MP3s daily, and its archive will keep you busy for weeks. Just head to www.rbally.net. Andy Vihstadt
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