I recently received a package of eleven CDs from Garage D’Or Records, including many of the label’s releases from three decades as prime documenters of the Minneapolis music scene. Since there hasn’t been much else to review lately, here’s a rundown of all eleven albums:
The Suicide Commandos – The Commandos Commit Suicide Dance Concert
This is a recording of the last Suicide Commandos concert, which happened at Jay’s Longhorn in Minneapolis on 11/24/78. If you’re unfamiliar with the band, you should investigate their lone studio album (Make A Record) first, a fiery platter of Midwest rock and roll released on Mercury’s punk subsidiary Blank Records in 1977. But, if you have that album, and you need more Suicide Commandos in your life, this live album is a corker. The Commandos (they dropped the “Suicide” from their name by this point) split time between originals and well-selected covers over the course of 32 songs (selected from 50 played that night!), attacking each with the kind of live-wire energy you expect, but also a level of musical precision that most “punk” bands couldn’t match.
The Suburbs – High Fidelity Boys: Live 1979
Another 32-track live album recorded at Jay’s Longhorn, this time documenting Minneapolis five-some The Suburbs sourced from several concerts throughout 1979. I have to admit this is my first exposure to the band, who were popular locally for about a decade from 1977-87, but couldn’t break through nationally. It’s not a good one either. While I imagine these shows were fun for those who attended, the recordings are lo-fi, and the band’s defining characteristics are an unfortunate mix of bad vocals and sloppy playing. Skip it.
L7-3 – Men of Distinction
L7-3 were Chris Osgood and Dave Ahl’s post-Suicide Commandos outfit, with local engineer Steve Fjelstad on bass. Men Of Distinction collects their recorded output for the first time, featuring 18 tracks from 1980-81 that sat on Fjelstad’s shelf until 2009. Much like The Suicide Commandos, the playing is tight and energetic, but with a meatier bottom end, likely a bi-product of having a bassist also do the engineering. This album should be a revelation of New Wave and Punk Rock crossing paths, but I can’t quite jive with Osgood’s goofy Devo-aping vocals.
Barefoot & Pregnant
A 1982 compilation meant to document the burgeoning Minneapolis rock scene. While the album is well-known in some circles for featuring rare early recordings of The Replacements, Husker Du and Loud Fast Rules (who would become Soul Asylum), don’t go forking over your money just yet. These songs all came from really crappy cassette recordings, so it’s not a great representation of any of the bands. In fact, you can almost hear The Replacements’ contribution (a cover of “Ace Of Spades”) beneath the tape hiss if you try really hard. While the comp is commendable as a document of the different elements that made up the local scene (everything from Mecht Mensch’s thrashy hardcore to Lou Santacroce’s solo country/blues) the sound quality is consistently awful.
Similar in concept to the aforementioned Barefoot & Pregnant, the Kitten compilation ups the shitty sound quality quotient with songs recorded from two nights of live shows at local punk dive Goofy’s Upper Deck. If Husker Du sound sloppy and out of tune on their three songs, then what chance do garden variety HC thrashers Todlachen, Ground Zero and Willful Neglect stand? Loud Fast Rules, moonlighting under the moniker Proud Crass Fools, deliver the only highlight with their album-opening take on CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising”.
Man Sized Action – Five Story Garage
Although Man Sized Action were part of the Minneapolis scene dating back to 1980, 1984’s Five Story Garage was just their second album. The album’s eight songs sound great and are performed with the kind of verve you want to hear from a band spawned during the hardcore zeitgeist. Perhaps you could make an argument for Man Sized Action as an alternate version of Mission of Burma or Husker Du (whose Bob Mould recorded their first album in 1983), or even a next generation take on Wire. That’s an interesting proposition; however, they’re a decidedly second-tier talent, displaying very little grasp of songwriting or band dynamics. Everything sounds pretty similar from song to song, which is a real shame. Eight bonus tracks from a 1986 concert give a glimpse into what a third Man Sized Action album might have sounded like had the band stayed together. To me it just sounds like more of the same.
Baby Grant Johnson – A Lonesome Road and All Over Your Town
Two albums, dating from 1997 and 2000 respectively, in the early folk-blues style. A mix of covers and originals, Johnson’s voice doesn’t have the natural grit and grime needed to pull this kind of music off. He sounds a bit like Paul Westerberg, which is great for fronting The Replacements, but wrong for acoustic covers of Bukka White, Sleepy John Estes and the like.
The Blood Shot – Wake Up and Die Right and Straight Up
Early hard rock and heavy metal rule the day on these two albums, dating from 2003 and 2004. Normally that’s my musical sweet spot, but The Blood Shot are at best clumsy practitioners, and at worst complete amateurs. Andrew Kereakos sings like any random guy in his twenties, the production stinks, and their cover of Pentagram’s “Forever My Queen” is as horrible as the original is amazing.