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Punk before punk was invented, Rocket From the Tombs is back

Wednesday, Nov 19 2003
Cleveland's Rocket From the Tombs could get by on punk legend alone. With members that went on to form Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys, the band is part of the "missing link" mid-'70s pre-punk scene that also included bands like the New York Dolls and the Dictators. But while its contemporaries have had their respective shticks appropriated by wave after wave of punk revivalists, RFTT retains some serious mystique by virtue of having never made a proper studio recording. The newly released compilation of ancient demos, The Day the Earth Met the Rocket From the Tombs, hardly threatens to dim this allure.

The scorched, paper-thin recording has as much heat and color jumping off of it as any document of its era. It sounds otherworldly, and not only because it seems to have been recorded live from the moon by a single cheapo mike placed at the bottom of Lake Erie. With its improvisational ethos and experimental leanings, the record seems intent on screwing with the cartoon that was to become "punk" before it was even drawn up. And while the 19 tracks are book-ended by Stooges covers and the blues-edged metallic drone that shows up throughout is hardly all its own, RFTT's sound goes beyond hero-worship for its Detroit progenitors. For one thing, the band has a sweet side, shown on a stately cover of the Velvet Underground's "Foggy Notion." And the originals "Sonic Reducer," "Final Solution," and "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" were to become, in the hands of the Dead Boys and Pere Ubu, as rooted in the punk canon as The Stooges' "Raw Power" or "Search and Destroy."

Of course, if it's legend-for-legend's-sake you're after, you can't do much better than a live show by the reconstituted RFTT. Not only do you get Pere Ubu's David Thomas (formerly known as Crocus Behemoth!) and the Dead Boys' Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz, but also Television's Richard Lloyd, who replaces long-deceased original guitarist Peter Laughner. That's like spotting Bigfoot, Elvis, and Nessie playing poker. Make sure to bring your vinyl and sharpies.

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Andrew Marcus


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