Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What I Love About The Seventies

DMZ was a bit of an oddity, a rock & roll band that history has condemned to the shadows of late Seventies punk. Being from Boston didn't help the group's exposure, dwarfed as they were by the media wattage pulsating out of Manhattan, London, and Los Angeles. They were a hard group to classify: a punk band with an organ and two guitarists? They released an EP on Bomp in 1977 produced by Craig Leon, and a self-titled album on Sire a year later produced by Flo and Eddie that hasn't aged very well; the production brutally squashed the band's dynamics and energy. After DMZ metamorphosed into Lyres around 1979, various EPs and singles were released that collected stray studio tracks DMZ cut during their brief existence. Some ("The First Time Is The Best Time," a cover of "Teenage Head," "Boy From Nowhere,") are pretty great.

My favorite DMZ document is a show recorded at Barnaby's in Boston in 1978. The tapes languished in the cans until 1986 when venerable Crypt Records issued DMZ!! Live!! 1978!!. It's a great, muscular, frenetic, sweaty rock and roll album, organ player and singer Jeff Conolly and company—J.J. Rassler and Peter Greenberg on guitars, Paul Murphy on drums, Rock Coraccio on bass—tearing through a set of originals and covers in front of what might be described generously as a sparse crowd. They cover the Stooges, the Sonics, 13th Floor Elevators, the Troggs. Conolly's own songs are blistering, desperate takes on his heroes.

My favorite track is the cover of the Kinks' "Come On Now." DMZ's arrangement is everything that was exciting and possible about late Seventies rock & roll. Here's the original, the b-side of "Tired Of Waiting For You" from 1965:

And DMZ's rampage from 1978:

Listen to the thundering rhythm section, the hoarse, urgent vocals, the dual-guitar slashing— a snaking lead figure atop chunky power chords—that filters 60's Beat Music through the Stooges via Boston punk ethos; the guitar solo is borderline metallic. The Kinks' original is cool, but DMZ's version adds muscle, urban attitude, and the sonic near-chaos, sneer and wattage that late-Seventies punk demanded. It's vital stuff.


Oh, and the album jacket features one of the all-time great rock & roll photographs: Conolly on stage with one hand gripping a tambourine and the other bandaged beyond recognition. Judging by his on-mike requests for screwdrivers and beers, I'm guessing Conolly wasn't feeling much pain on this June night.
Monoman, reporting for duty.

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