Sunday, December 07, 2003

Once upon a time, in Cleveland, there was a band called Rocket from the Tombs. It wasn't a very long time. The band played less than a dozen gigs before breaking up -- without ever releasing a single record. But its members went on to other bands, like Pere Ubu, which stuck around a bit longer, and some of those bands' best songs had originally been Rockets material. And so, on the strength of those songs and one endlessly bootlegged radio show, Rocket from the Tombs started to gather a kind of posthumous cult following, to the point that a totally different band named themselves Rocket from the Crypt as a kind of homage.

Nearly thirty years later, and after the death of original guitarist Peter Laughner, singer David Thomas was looking for a band to fill out a bill featuring Pere Ubu, and decided, more or less on a lark, to try to round up the original members of Rocket from the Tombs, and do the gig (with Television's Richard Lloyd substituting for Laughner) -- not as a reunion, he says, but just as a one off event by a bunch of guys who liked playing together. Ten months later, they're still doing it, and Thomas confesses that "credibility is stretched now on the official line that this is not a reunion".

I caught the show at TT's yesterday night, and I'm now here to tell you that even with David Thomas needing a cane to get around on stage, Cleveland does, in fact, rock. The show was brilliant. They are still touring, by the way. It's probably too late for anyone reading this to catch the show in Washington DC this evening (weather permitting, one presumes), but after that, they will head south. Catch them if you have the chance.

And there were openers. At shows like this, there are sometimes two kinds of openers -- local openers arranged by the venues, and touring openers who tour with the band. As in this case, where the first set was played by Boston punk veterans Unnatural Axe. When one of the band's songs is actually called "Three Chord Rock", you don't expect ruffles and flourishes (though "Punks from Outer Space" -- they came to rock the human race -- had echoes of Devo), but the songs were tight, were played with verve, and the few dozen people who caught the whole set got a heck of a show. As folks drifted in, a larger crowd caught the touring openers (for a leg of the tour perhaps ending in Boston), U.S. Maple. Their guitarist told the crowd maybe a dozen times before their set that "rock and roll music fucking RULES." Which was an early tipoff that theirs' fucking doesn't. This sort of thing happens more often than you might expect...


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