Live! [Reissue] LP+CD
While plenty of punk bands have been well exposed since the public became interested in learning about the early days of the L.A. punk scene (X’s catalogue has been reissued by Fat Possum Records, Porterhouse reissued (MIA) by The Germs and other labels have reissued titles by The Avengers, The Bags and The Runaways too), the truth is that giving all of the talent that L.A. had in reserve in the Eighties its due is still a work in progress. Getting that music exposed is part of what The Dils Live! reissue seeks to facilitate; like many of the reissues from the L.A. scene’s early years, Live! is not without its flaws – but as one pulls apart both the vinyl album (which compiles a show captured in 1977 as well as a show from 1980) as well as the CD (which captures a complete show from 1978 at the legendary Mabuhay Gardens), fans will recognize to their joy that this is a great conglomerate release which goes out of its way to show off as many of The Dils’ strengths as it is able.
What becomes perfectly self-evident after stylus catches groove on the A-side of the record and “Tell Her I Love Her” opens Live!‘s A-side is that The Dils (and most of the rest of the California punk scene – before the second wave hit in 1994) were completely unlike their peer group of bands. From note one, there is some crunchy simplicity about The Dils (due, in part, to the average age of the band’s members – it could be argued), but there’s also a healthy amount of poppy, Sixties garage rock about them too; in this early going, it’s easy to imagine The Dils being a stereotypical product of the same state which gave us The Beach Boys and innumerable Jan & Dean type acts.That same kind of vibe holds up through “Tell Me What I Want To Hear” [although it also features a slightly more stunted, grindy guitar tone –ed], but begins to hit a much stronger stride with “It’s Not Worth It” – which features the single greatest lyric which forecasts the Nineties SoCal punk explosion with the words, “It’s not worth it/ You might as well spend your days in bed/ It’s not worth it/No matter what you do you’re better off dead.” Here, The Dils don’t rush along at all; drummer John Shivers hits a solid and deliberate tempo which makes it possible to pick out every last syllable on the lyric sheet shared by guitarist Chip Kinman and brother/bassist Tony Kinman, and the assemblage amounts to a sounds that is very possibly one of the best of its place and moment – which, in 1980, would have included The Germs’ last gasp, the beginning of X and the beginning of Los Angeles’ hardcore scene.
Over that peak, the A-side immediately falls back in time to 1977 but, surprisingly the quality of the songs does not diminish in the slightest and the sound quality remains exactly the same. “You’re Not Blank” bounces happily on a surprisingly poppy tip as Chip and Tony display a startling faculty for vocal melody for vocal melody, while “Red Rockers Rule” gives a performance of the calibre that Green Day would make millions with later before “Mr. Big” attempts to tip all those the bandmembers see as “older” and/or “better” than they are over, and then the side ends with another lost pop punk gem called “The Sound Of The Rain.” There too, Chip Kinman bucks tradition and turns in a surprisingly good guitar solo and totally overrides lyrics which detail the band’s wish to see some dead cops before crashing to a close. The way it plays will leave listeners surprised both at how such a bootleg-quality release can be so captivating as well as how polished the songs are; while it normally takes punk bands years to refine their talent and present mature work, The Dils arrive well-developed, here. When both song and side end, listeners will be ready to examine more as soon as the needle lifts.
…And because it worked so well the first time, the B-side of Live! Mimics the A-; it splits its time between presenting the balance of the 1980 show as well as four cuts from 1977. It’s actually pretty engaging, that way; here, listeners get to check the development that the band underwent in three years with another presentation of “It’s Not Worth It” [editor’s note: the 1980 version of “It’s Not Worth It” is the superior one on the vinyl disc] and really get a chance to see that, while the development is hindered by the poorer quality of the source tape, the later songs are really, really good.
On top of the massive helping of audio that the vinyl record serves, listeners actually get a more filling course on the CD in this set. Those listeners who indulge the CD (and, yes, I know many will skip it because CDs are not at all fashionable right now) will be brilliantly rewarded with a show which occurred on March 20, 1978 at Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco, CA, and happens to feature the most standout, gorgeous audio of the set. “National Guard” opens the running here and, although the patch chord clearly comes out of someone’s mike early on, the band still recovers well and sets a great standard that the amphetamine-powered surf-punk of “Citizen,” the sidewalk stomping singalong of “Class War,” a particularly loose and speedy take of “It’s Not Worth It” and a harrowing rendition of “What Goes On” all manage to surpass as the set progresses. It’s remarkable, to be honest; captured only a year after half of the vinyl portion of this set happened, the performance at Mabuhay Gardens absolutely bristles with raw energy, tight performance and [gasp] improved musicianship. It won’t be the most fashionable thing to say in any context, but the CD portion of Porterhouse’s Live! reissue is the great secret bonus to find, without a doubt.
So how should this reissue be viewed within the context of The Dils’ catalogue? The easiest way to say it is that feelings will definitely be divided. On one hand, longtime fans will have the chance to finally get a copy of some of the band’s music, because everything in The Dils’ catalogue has been out of print for such a long time. That’s good. On the other hand, live bootlegs invariably leave a tremendous amount to be desired – unless the audio was somehow captured off the mixing board at the venue, and this release is not that. It is pretty raw (which is a negative), but that does not overshadow the quality of the performance. Those who are interested in The Dils and want to pick up a copy of this release will be thrilled as long as they keep their expectations limited; The Dils Live! bootleg is a great souvenir for fans of the band and the best bootleg on the market. [Bill Adams]
The Dils Live! is out now. Buy it here, directly from Porterhouse Records.