If, as a wise man once ventured, “it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock’n’roll”, then it’s an even longer journey to Nottingham and back to see a punk legend rise from the dead. At least it is if you happen to live in Dudley: granted, the Ohio oiks had played in Birmingham the week before, but I had a crooning date with Jack Jones that evening and some things just can’t be missed.
This second reformation of the Dead Boys (featuring original members Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz alongside three younger recruits) has, as one can probably imagine, attracted a certain amount of flak from rock’s more cynical quarters: how, many have asked, can a band of that name possibly exist without Stiv Bators? Surely his looning, spazzing, sexy, sleazy, skinny-arsed torso and come-hither vocals were the very essence of the band. On the other hand, the last two decades have seen a Morrison-less Doors, an MC5 without Rob Tyner, a New York Dolls without Johnny Thunders, a Heavy Metal Kids without Gary Holton and a Gong without anybody, all technically demonstrating that these days practically anything’s possible: moreover, for those of us who were too young to witness the Stiv-fronted DBs in all their pomp (fuck, I was even too young to see him with the Lords, although I caught their reformation as well) this is a more than welcome journey into pastures unknown. So maybe we should stop grousin’ about what’s gone before and concentrate instead on what lies ahead.
Which, if tonight’s showing is anything to go by, is precisely what we wanted and hoped for: a few more years at the very least of high-octane, trashy, smudged-eyeliner punk’n’roll . A credo by which I more or less lived my entire life (that is, until my personal obsession with horror soundtracks led me to psych up and prog out more freely) betwixt 1992 and 2001: granted, up here in Notts, they like it dirtier, filthier and a lot less pretty than they did in the foggy Londinium of said callow youth, but the swagger remains, and once the band hit the stage, that’s precisely what they do. And some.
Sure, it may be an ‘obvious’ move in the eyes of some for a band to start with their best known song, but Sonic Reducer is quite possibly the perfect number with which to do just that: a crash of drums, an impending chug of encroaching intent, and we’re on our way. Though undeniably stockier than Bators, new frontman Jake Hout still channels his predecessor’s cavalier spirit with style: he also sprinkles the odd Alice Cooper flavour here and there, and tops the whole soufflé with a hardcore-inflected spit’n’snot edge, but thankfully, the resultant hybrid is very much his own creation as opposed to a hollow simulation of anyone else. Wrapping himself in yards of mike cable, he seems as much intent on getting inside the songs as performing them: as Chrome’s curling lead lines rise like demonic vapour from the diseased swirl of Not Anymore, he’s clearly ‘living the dream’ of being his hero, though obviously one hopes he lives considerably longer and avoids walking in front of too many taxis.
Ain’t Nothin To Do, the ultimate dejection anthem that accurately captured the mood of half of late 70s mid-West teen America (that is to say, the half not found driving round malls with Kansas, Chicago and Journey blaring out their 8-tracks) is as incendiary as ever: for a man now well into his sixties, Blitz can still slam the traps with a force most youngsters would envy, and locks together with new bassist Ricky Rat to create an undercarriage of unstoppable force. Lest we forget, though, the Dead Boys were always about more than just power: beneath the scything guitars and gang choruses pop melody still reigns supreme, as emphasised most by All This And More and the grimy, grubby, teasing, pleading centrepiece I Need Lunch. Switching from beat-group jangle to searing defiance in seconds, whilst the shorn-headed Chrome’s lead lines sneakily betray his secret love of some early 70s British hard rock act or other (quite possibly the Groundhogs or the BOC, but I still can’t quite be sure) that punx weren’t meant to admit to digging back in ’77, the agitated, nervous High Tension Wire and Down In Flames are the very essence of the subterranean sleaze-rock aesthetic: with Blitz’s Moonesque rollings and tumblings adding an ever-precarious, writhing undercarriage, they seem possessed at times of near-lysergic qualities.
With a set lasting a mere 55 minutes, they may well be a blur, but they’re a welcome one: when all’s said and done, it is punk rock, and if it’s a lengthy exploration of sonic tapestries one is after, a prog show (much like the ones I shall be attending in Brum throughout April, in fact) may provide a more satisfying sonic banquet. There is an encore, of course (the inevitable Aint It Fun, followed by a breakneck Son Of Sam) but otherwise, what we get is precisely what we deserve – a short, sharp, swift, Cuban heel in the nadgers, stained with the heady aroma of smeared mascara and sweat-stained leather. More to the point, I get the sneakiest feeling they may make a go of it this time: though this tour is ‘allegedly’ only a limited-period excursion designed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of We Have Come For Your Children (a title they definitely wouldn’t get away with in this snowflake age) the whole thing appears to be going swimmingly well.
And fuck it, why shouldn’t they? Neither they nor their close relatives Rocket From The Tombs (who have released two albums since reforming this century) got the breaks the first time round, so if, in 2018, they’re finally getting the chance to capitalise on their legend, I don’t begrudge them- deceased ex-members or not- a solitary penny of it. And neither, most importantly of all, would Stiv. You never know, at this rate, I might even be tempted to reform Flurble or Mr Gnobbly & The Gnobbs. Watch this space…