There’s always going to be a thirst for first-wave punk — for the stories as well as the music, and the feeling of local pride that goes along with learning everything we can about the originators of the local scene. In the Bay Area, that of course means the Dead Kennedys, Flipper, the Nuns, the Mutants, and (among many others) the Avengers.
The initial lifespan of the Avengers really was a “blink and you missed it” deal. Danny Furious and Greg Ingraham convinced Penelope Houston to join their band in ’77, they recorded the We Are the One EP, infamously opened for the Sex Pistols on the English band’s final show here at Winterland, and then, by ’79, they were gone. Split.
A self-titled EP was released a few months after they went kaput, and a self-titled album, usually referred to as The Pink Album, was released in ’83 (basically a collection of the studio recordings). But as a touring unit, they were done until 1999, when a compilation album on Lookout! Records called Died for Your Sins led to a few celebratory reunion gigs.
It wasn’t until 2004 that they really got going again. Interest in the band had grown, as young punks continued to trace the lineage back (as young punks are wont to do). The Avengers were assembled again — Houston and Ingraham the two mainstays — and they’ve been performing sporadically ever since.
“The messages of the songs are sadly still relevant in this time,” Houston tells SF Weekly. “They stand up and those messages still need to be out there. And I just get a great feeling performing those songs, every time I do it — it doesn’t matter what decade it’s in.”
Godammit, she’s right as well. The themes that she was singing of in the ’70s are at least as relevant today under the current administration, if not more so. For example, from “We Are the One”: “We are not Jesus (Christ) fuck you/ We are not fascists (pigs) fuck you/ We are not capitalists (Industrialists)/ We are not communists, We are the one.”
The Avengers tapped into the frustrations of the time gloriously enough that, like the Dead Kennedys, the music is timeless and that’s invaluable. Little wonder, then, that they keep being rediscovered.
“We just went on tour with Stiff Little Fingers in November and December. That was a 30-date tour, and we played a whole lot of places we’d never actually played before — the South, parts of Texas, a lot of in between cities that we’d never hit before,” Houston says. “And that was really fun and interesting because there were a lot of people who came up and said that they’d been waiting forever to hear us and never thought we’d come to their little town.”
The material, as little of it as there is, is incendiary and anthemic, blessed with Houston’s forthright, expressive vocals. It makes sense that, between stints in the Avengers, she had a respectable spell as an acoustic, folkie singer/songwriter. Her voice has that authority. But she’s always looking back at the old school San Fran punk scene and the camaraderie that went with it.
“One of the great things is when you see somebody who was actually there back then,” she says. “Who remembers what the world was like before the internet and everything, when you had to find out about shows by looking on poles for posters or calling your friends up on an old fashioned telephone. When I see those people, I feel a camaraderie with them certainly, because there’s an understanding. Yes, we lived through that, it actually happened. It’s not just a bunch of old black and white photos — it actually happened to us.”
Any punk fans that haven’t seen the Avengers yet really should get to the Great American Hall this week, where they’ll be opening for Long Beach horror-punks TSOL. Houston is psyched, because it’s one of her favorite venues in the city.
The set, Houston says, will feature all the hits. The Avengers have yet to make the leap back into the studio — for now they’re happy pulling out the old tunes.
“We did work up a song on tour that we didn’t do previous to this tour, that’s called ‘No Martyr’ and it’s really fun but it is on The Pink Album,” she says. “We haven’t played it for decades. Another thing will be, we’ll have a special lineup of Hector [Penalosa] from the Zeros on bass and Daryl Bach from the Afflicted on drums. That’s the lineup we toured with Stiff Little Fingers with but it’s not our usual lineup.”
Need more Houston? She’s been working on a special collection with the San Francisco Public Library, in the San Francisco History Center — an archive of local punk artifacts. By hook or by crook, she’s going to keep the old school alive. Find out more about that at facebook.com/sfpunkarchive.
The Avengers with TSOL, M.D.C., The Lewd, and Kicker, at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23 at the Great American Music Hall.