Cramps Offer Shockabilly Treats On Halloween

Ghoulish rockers roar through two decades' worth of deranged punk at their annual show.

SAN FRANCISCO — The city's most bizarre and colorful characters

came out of the woodwork this weekend for the Cramps' annual Halloween

shows, held this year at the Fillmore Auditorium.

Nearly all at Sunday's sold-out show, which wrapped up the two-night

stand, were in costume, including a Little Bo Peep, Evel Knievel and a

paunchy Elvis wrapped tightly in gold lamé, with lots of fake blood

and gore thrown about.

Singer Lux Interior, clad in modest black pumps and a sheer lace sheath that left little to the imagination, stalked about the stage like a less-than-genial Herman Munster.

The band opened with "Mystery Plane," one of several crowd-pleasing

favorites from the first full-length Cramps album, 1980's Songs the

Lord Taught Us. From the same LP they also played "T.V. Set,"

"Garbageman" and a cover of the Sonics' "Strychnine."

The Cramps' sound, instrumentation and focus have changed little throughout

their more-than-20-year career. Fans could count on simple, hard beats

and guitarist Ivy Rorschach's traditional rockabilly riffs, augmented

with snippets of slide and feedback — all brought to bear on songs

with deranged themes.

"They're less like a band than a cabaret act," Hester Van der Vinne, 31, of Amsterdam, Netherlands, said. "It's always more or less the same, but it's always good, silly fun."

Interior, Rorschach and company are famous for scouring the underbelly of Americana for material. Sunday's set included a bevy of covers: the old Sun Records standard "Domino," credited to the label's founder Sam Phillips, which the band recorded for its first EP, Gravest Hits; the Count 5 hit "Psychotic Reaction"; and the traditional "Shortnin' Bread," which was given the Cramps treatment on their 1990 album, Stay Sick.

Interspersed between those numbers was a smattering of material from

throughout the quartet's career. The group pulled out songs such as

"Cramp Stomp" (RealAudio

excerpt) and "It Thing Hard-On," from Big Beat From Badsville

(1997), and "Ultra Twist" and "Let's Get Fucked Up" (RealAudio

excerpt), from Flamejob (1994).

Interior (born Erick Lee Purkhiser) has a long-established arsenal of

vocal effects, some of them bizarre. He practically swallowed the microphone

at times and used gasps, screams and stutters, showcased most prominently

during a 20-minute mess of encores.

Those encores included "Tear It Up," from the songbook of Sun Records

country-rocker Charlie Feathers, a mongrelized jam on the Rivingtons'

"Papa-Oom-Mow Mow" and the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird."

Interior sloppily poured the remnants of a bottle of red wine into his

wide-open mug as the band's bassist ground his instrument into his amp,

creating roars of feedback. Rorschach (born Christine Marlana Wallace)

rolled around on her back, momentarily putting her guitar aside to peel

off her knee-high, black patent-leather stiletto boots.

As the band carried on, Interior, still in his pumps, climbed the speaker

stacks, mugging for the crowd, twisting the mic stand and repeatedly

spanking himself. On one of his monkeylike forays across the stage, he

fixated on one of Rorschach's discarded boots. Thus began a long, drawn-out

love affair that eventually involved Interior's stroking, licking, sucking

and finally wearing the unzipped boot on his face.

Rorschach, cool as ever, rolled her eyes and finished the song.