Early Cleveland Punk Surfaces

Pere Ubu at least gained international renown. Now you can check out the sound of a few key Cleveland punk bands that never made it out of Ohio.

For years, Cleveland, Ohio suffered as the butt of countless jokes

and dubious distinctions: the armpit of Ohio, the "Mistake on the Lake," the

city that set the river on fire, etc.

Then, a few years ago, the

persecuted tribe of Cleveland got wise and started promoting themselves as the

"Birthplace of Rock and Roll." Soon enough, homeboy Alan Freed was being touted

as the originator of the phrase and a clunky pile of geometrical shapes on the

riverfront sprouted up and called itself the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and

Museum. Now, whether or not you buy all this marketing hoo-ha is your business.

One thing's for sure, though, there was a lot more than just random acts

of river poisoning going on in Cleveland in the mid-70's; there was a fair

amount of mind and music poisoning going on as well.

Long-forgotten bands

like the Mirrors, the Electric Eels and The Styrenes as well as more notorious

outfits like the Dead Boys, Pere Ubu, Rocket from the Tombs and The Pagans, all

sprung from the arty, everybody-knows-this-is-nowhere Cleveland punk scene.

While all the bands jockeyed for punk position in the then-minuscule

scene, only Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys ever advanced much beyond their Northern

Ohio homes to the (relatively speaking) "big time," with the Mirrors, Electric

Eels and Styrenes leaving behind only a string of hard-to-find posthumous

singles, basement tapes and hazy memories of their obnoxious, grating live

shows. But it is this trio of more obscure bands that get a second shot at

immortality on a new Scat Records collection entitled Those Were Different

Times (June 30, June 2 for vinyl). The 29-song collection archives a

disjointed, free-ranging sound that borders on what would later be termed

"post-punk," at a time when the punk revolution was just taking hold outside of

London and New York. None of the tracks have ever been available in any format.

Ever.

Centered on the three bands...



Centered on the three bands, which shared a number of

sometime-members (Jamie Klimek, who led both the Mirrors and The Styrenes, Jim

Jones, Paul Marotta and Anton Fier, later of the Golden

Palominos/Feelies/Lounge Lizards), the compilation exposes the development of

an off-kilter sound in a place where few outside the local scene were paying

attention.

Developing in parallel and at odd angles to the more

aggressive, rudimentary punk styles blossoming during 1974-76 in England (Sex

Pistols, the Damned) and New York (The Ramones, The Heartbreakers), the bands,

like thousands of others that sprung up around the country at that time, used

punk precursors the Velvet Underground and the Stooges as templates for their

barely-proficient-with-one-chord three chord punk.

The Mirrors' "Annie,"

recorded in June of 1974 is the most obviously VU-influenced song in the bunch,

nearly borrowing the bass riff from "Rock and Roll" wholesale and mixing it

with a fuzzed-out garage rock blast of noise and energy. Just a few songs, and

a year later, the sound of the Mirrors, already laced with a mix of psychedelic

haze and tendencies towards prog rock flights of (stoned) fancy, has already

progressed beyond mere VU posturing to the distorted keyboard and bass

aggression of "You Me Love" and the Captain Beefheart-like acid chamber rock of

"Beaver Girls." Later songs feature odd combinations of keyboard

experimentation ("Frustration") and proto-punk sloganeering ("Hands in My

Pockets"), and, in their last recording on the set, "We'll See," from a May

1975 rehearsal tape, a devolution back to Nuggets-inspired three-chord

garage rock.

The dozen songs from the Electric Eels gave a more immediate,

in-your-face taste of punk circa-1975, starting with the visceral, ugly "You

Crummy Fags," and winding through a half-dozen chaotic bursts of wordy working

class woe such as "Safety Week," "Wreck & Roll" and "Splitterty Splat," all

from a poorly-recorded May 1975 rehearsal. Never managing to release any albums

while they were together (two hard-to-find posthumous albums, Haing a

Philosophical Investigation with the Electric Eels ('89) and God Says

Fuck You ('91)) and notorious for playing only five live shows during their

brief two-year career, the Eels were prototypically punk in every way,

sacrificing professionalism for speed and artifice for conviction.

As much

an art project as band--Eels guitarists John Morton and Brian McMahon would

often try to court controversy by slow dancing together at working class

Cleveland bars while singer Dave McManus beat Jackyl to the punch by twenty

years by playing a lawnmower on stage and wearing mouse traps on his

jacket--the big, dumb noise of the Eels still shocks and rocks twenty years

after the fact. Later songs find the band experimenting with keyboard and horn

skronk ("Now"), a capella nonsense ("The Big 'O'"), politically-charged

post-punk minimalism ("Spin Age Blasters") and before-its-time pure hardcore

("Flapping Jets").

The seven songs from The Styrenes complete with circle

with stabs at random electronic white noise ("Thirtyfour"), ironic off-beat pop

("Draw the Curtain") and arty ambient improvisation ("Pleasure Boating," "Grey

Haired Rats"), drawing a definitive arc between the clambering discord of punk

and the later rise of the more free-form post-punk/New Wave/No Wave bands of

the late '70's. You might still think Cleveland Sucks, but Different

Times at least proves that it used to suck in a much more entertaining

manner.