First-wave punk veterans the Dead Boys played Rescue Rooms this Wednesday, delivering their gritty anthems with surprising amount of energy and spirit, given that most of the members are now over 60. The general atmosphere, however, left me wondering whether it is entirely ‘punk’ for a punk band to embark on an anniversary tour.
The Dead Boys were an important component of the 1970s New York punk scene alongside other highly influential bands like The Ramones, the New York Dolls and the Voidoids, and were notorious for their outrageous live performances and definitively punk attitude. The band never gained the level of mainstream success enjoyed by The Ramones, but they were an influential and pioneering component of the early punk scene, and songs such as Sonic Reducer and Ain’t It Fun remain some of the most essential anthems in punk rock history.
Original frontman Stiv Bators was struck by a taxi and killed in 1990 and the lack of his presence is certainly felt. Replacement singer Jake Hout does a decent Bators impression, but ultimately the band feels like a replica of the original Dead Boys. It would admittedly be impossible for their music to have the same impact and energy now as it did in their prime, and it was certainly enjoyable to hear some of their punk rock classics performed by some of the Dead Boys themselves. It would be hard to ask more of them, as the music was performed perfectly, with Cheetah Chrome’s searing guitar lines and Johnny Blitz’s thundering drumming remaining extremely solid throughout. Without Bators, however, the Dead Boys just aren’t the Dead Boys anymore.
For a band whose driving attitude was one of youthful rebellion, performing a retrospective anniversary tour seems at odds with their founding philosophy. The audience was comprised entirely of aging punks, and the gig gave the impression of a rehashing of former glory, rather than the explosive expressions of punk attitude that defined their 1970s performances. At one point, singer Jake Hout attempts to stage dive, but the audience fail to catch him, causing him to fall directly from the stage to the floor. An apt metaphor, perhaps, for the entirety of the show: their onstage punk antics fall short of recreating the ferocity and energy of their early gigs, and the band is met by a muted response from the aging audience. One only has to compare a 1977 recording of a Dead Boys CBGBs set with a more recent recording to see where the problem lies. The music is all there, but it is devoid of its original attitude and meaning, and, of course, there is no Stiv Bators.
While enjoyable for the music alone, it is hard to see the Dead Boys live and not compare them to their original CBGBs glory, being a band so firmly rooted in that particular moment in punk rock history. Ultimately, the current incarnation of the Dead Boys feels more like a cover band than the pioneering punk rockers themselves.
Photo courtesy of Pomona