Germs – Live at the Starwood: December 3, 1980

January 01, 1970

(Rhino
Handmade)

 

www.rhino.com

 

There
are two ways to look at the Germs, 30 years after their original lifespan. They
epitomized the original punk rock aesthetic, where anyone could get up onstage
and perform, no matter how tuneless or whacked out on goofballs they were. In
Penelope Spheeris’ 1980 film, The Decline
of Western Civilization
, vocalist Darby Crash stumbles around the stage,
oblivious to people drawing on his shirtless body, mumbling lyrics with little regard
for the music being played. While other bands in the film talk seriously about
their aesthetics, the Germs come off like half-witted spoiled brats, laughing
as they recall finding a dead house painter in their yard. They didn’t feel bad
for him “because I hate painters,” Crash’s friend Michelle admits. Why waste
energy hating the government when easier targets exist in the backyard?

 

But the
Germs also proved that they could be cohesive and a lot more articulate than
most punk bands. Their token studio album, (GI) presents a taut, fierce band that paved the way for hardcore without resorting
to the one-dimensional attack that sunk that style. Guitarist Pat Smear
combined Johnny Thunders-esque string bends with power chords. He could also
write riffs that varied in tempo and attack from song to song. And Crash’s
lyrics – when they weren’t sending listeners to the dictionary to look up words
like “inculcated” – were articulate and thoughtful, especially for a kid in his
early 20s, realizing there was something beyond anarchy and destruction than
mere buzzwords.

 

Four
days before his fatal overdose of heroin (allegedly intentional), the Germs
played their final show at Los Angeles’
Starwood. Two of the songs appeared on the 1981 EP What We Do Is Secret, along with some between-song banter, but this
marks the first complete release of the 25-song set. The band plays with the
same ferocity of the studio album. Drummer Don Bolles plays like a pile driver,
even at the rapid tempos. Smear (who went on to work with Nirvana and the Foo
Fighters) tears things up and Lorna Doom, who could barely play bass two years
earlier, is simple but solid.

 

The
only problem is… Darby. The performance brings back memories of the scene in The Decline where the band talks about
the problem of getting him to sing into the microphone. Half the time, his
voice is inaudible. The rest of the time, he enters in the wrong place, forgets
those brilliant lyrics or sounds like any screamo kid yelling for the sake of
yelling. This takes any sense of discovery in the rarely heard “Lion’s Share” (recorded
for use in the Al Pacino film Cruising)
since the tinny sound and lack of vocals don’t leave much to hold onto. In a
cover of “Public Image,” he sounds even more uninterested than John Lydon on a
bad night, although his pun of “Public scrimmage,” is amusing.

 

Rhino
Handmade has done a good job of making the disc more appealing through its
elaborate packaging. It evokes the Germs’ DIY aesthetic, with liner notes
printed and folded like a punk zine, with a copy of the band’s original setlist
and a flyer for the show. In his liner notes, Jonathan Gold describes it as one
of best shows the band ever played. That may be, but you need a DVD to fully
appreciate it.

 

Still Live at the Starwood might not be the
best primer for someone new to the Germs mystique, but fans who remember the
good and the bad of this band will probably devour this set. It makes an
appropriate bookend with the semi-legitimate releases of the band’s 1977 performance
debut, where Crash’s taunts with the audience were nearly more listenable than
the actual set. The singer, who sounds more like Welcome Back Kotter character Arnold Horshack than your typical
punk rocker, tells the audience, “You’re not going to see this again,” which
could mean he was already planning his demise. That offers more proof that the
man once known as Jan Paul Beahm had more going on upstairs than most people
would ever realize.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Strange
Notes,” “Let’s Pretend.” MIKE
SHANLEY

 

 

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