Twistin’ on the Devil’s Fork is one of two live Dead Boys albums I bought at Crossroads Music on my recent trip to Portland and it draws songs from two live shows the band played at CBGB’s, one in 1977 and the other in 1978. I generally assume the sound quality on these early live punk records will be questionable, and this one even carries a disclaimer right there on the jacket reverse: “Warning: Low-fidelity live document of the Dead Boys during their heyday, no reunions, no overdubs!” So at least we know what we’re getting (though there were in fact some later reunions like their other live album… but it wouldn’t have been very punk rock to even have considered such heresy back in the day). Released in 1997 it drew from cassette tape recordings of the shows. Thank god someone thought to tape a lot of this stuff.
As a side note, we also have yet another example here of a band from the late 1970s/early 1980s using the swastika – Johnny Blitz is sporting a Nazi Luftwaffe (Air Force) metal badge on his jacket on the cover photo. It’s amazing how these symbols still hold enough power to make us uncomfortable almost 70 years after the end of World War II, a war that most of us didn’t have any experience with at all.
The sound quality is a bit hollow and seems to lack the depth of the bass and drums, but overall it’s not too shabby – I’ve certainly heard way worse. The dozen songs are all originals with the exception of a cover of Syndicate of Sound’s “Hey Little Girl”, maybe the best track on the first side with the possible exception of the opening song, “Sonic Reducer”, which pretty much blows away everything else. “Sonic Reducer” was actually written by a few band members when they were with Rocket from the Tombs and has subsequently been covered by everyone and their mother from Pearl Jam to Guns ‘N’ Roses to Foetus, and was even sampled by the Beastie Boys, so I suppose that speaks to its influence.
My other favorite here is “3rd Generation Nation”, which has a classic punk message.
There ain’t no future and there ain’t no past,
There’s just a graveyard and it’s comin’ fast.
Well we want the truth,
We’re the modern youth
History has warned you of,
And we’re down to kill.
We’re the 3rd generation nation!
Twistin’ on the Devil’s Fork is an important American punk rock artifact – these live recordings are rare and give a sense of the intense and raw nature of what was happening in the late 1970s. The sound quality, however, means that it’s probably only going to appeal to the die-hards – I doubt a casual fan is going to get much enjoyment from it. But that’s OK.
Liver Than You’ll Ever Be also came from Crossroads, and this show was recorded live at The Ritz in New York City in 1987 during one of the Dead Boys’ reunions. It’s a double album on pink see-through vinyl, which is cool. What’s not cool is the skip on side A. But what’s even more uncool is the crowd noise on this recording. The overall sound quality of Liver Than You’ll Ever Be is far superior to that of Twistin’ on the Devil’s Fork, with more depth and a better balance that brings the bass and drums back into the mix. However, the crowd noise is weird. As in, whoever was producing it did one of two things – either they were constantly manipulating the volume of the crowd noise to bring it to the front during the quieter parts or, more likely, they used a canned, fake applause track. I think the latter is more likely (Holly and I both reached the same conclusion independently of each other), since the crowd pretty much sounds the same throughout and you don’t get any of the random shouts of “you suck” or people puking in the background. Frankly it’s annoying as hell.
The Dead Boys played their classics at this show as well, including both “Sonic Reducer” and “3rd Generation Nation” They also include an Iggy & The Stooges cover, “Search and Destroy,” and even “Tell Me” by the Rolling Stones. Outside of the lame crowd noise, Liver Than You’ll Ever Be is absolutely the more enjoyable of the two records, and I think it’s good enough to recommend. Though that crowd noise is like fingernails on the blackboard.
Sometimes I find myself thinking, “man it would have been awesome to have been coming of age in New York City when punk was happening.” But then I remind myself – I came of age about 20 minutes outside of Seattle when grunge was happening, and it’s not like I made an effort to truly get involved in that scene other than through buying records, which I could have more or less just as easily done anywhere that had a decent record store. So let’s be real – I wouldn’t have been living in Tribeca or Hell’s Kitchen unless I absolutely had no other choice. One of the things that seems to define that entire scene, both in the UK and US, is abject poverty – bands and fans who barely had enough money to get by, basically spending what little they had on food, music, and getting wasted. The idea of experiencing the movement first hand is easy to romanticize 35 years later, but I probably would have felt differently sharing a filthy squat or cheap apartment with a bunch of people and enough cockroaches to fill a swimming pool, freezing my ass off in a New York winter with no heat, living off the cheapest food I could buy (or steal). In fact, I’m pretty sure of it. So I guess that means I’ll just keep playing my records.