Death to punk rock

Pets, featuring Allison Jones (pictured) and Derek Fieth, played an in-store last week at Midtown’s newest record shop, Phono Select. Look out for Pets’ recently released Ira Skinner-produced album, <i>Ready the Rifles</i>.

Pets, featuring Allison Jones (pictured) and Derek Fieth, played an in-store last week at Midtown’s newest record shop, Phono Select. Look out for Pets’ recently released Ira Skinner-produced album, Ready the Rifles.


Pick out the glass:
Before your studded leather collar gets too tight, rest assured this is not a column about Sacramento’s lifeless punk-rock scene. Punk has changed, yes, but promoters such as Sacramento Punk Shows (see Facebook) still keep it real. And a couple weeks back, my friend broke two ribs at the Cobra Skulls gig in Midtown. That’s pretty punk.

But the punkest thing I’ve seen in years is three black men pushing 60 years old, otherwise known as Death, the ’70s-era legends-who-never-were. They recorded … For the Whole World to See in 1975—only to have music mogul Clive Davis banish the album because Death wouldn’t change their name to something lame and decidedly not punk. Like “Birth.” Or “Billy Idol.”

Anyway, the brethren trio of Bobby, Dannis and David Hackney never released their lone recording and eventually quit punk altogether in the ’80s and became, of all things, a gospel troupe. In 2000, the band’s leader and main songwriter, David, died of lung cancer. Later, the other brothers started a reggae band. Punk was dead to them.

Enter 2009: Popular label Drag City, which put out Joanna Newsom’s latest, got a hold of the rights to For the Whole World to See and released it, which caught The New York Times’ eye, which then lead to Death’s resurrection among punk rock’s youthful 21st-century guard.

And so Death made a stop last Friday at Slim’s in San Francisco on its first tour ever. And what is more punk than a 20-something blond girl knocking a furiously-texting-on-his-BlackBerry white guy on his ass, causing him to lose the phone. This just after Death singer/bassist Bobby—along with friend Bobbie Duncan on guitar and original drummer, brother Dannis—shouted out a “1-2-3-4” and ripped into the searing guitar intro on “Rock-N-Roll Victim.”

BlackBerry had no clue the trio, dressed in matching long-sleeved, free-flowing silk white shirts with shoulder-length braids, were so damn punk. Kids a third their age moshed wildly, dozens strong, while a two-thirds-full venue remained so till the last song. The band thanked the crowd for “bringing back Death,” spoke out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even did an encore.

But the most touching moment occurred when Bobby referenced his brother David’s picture on a giant stage backdrop, designed with A Clockwork Orange-inspired art, singing a tender, somber ballad: “If your dream’s been shattered / pick out the glass / don’t let your head keep running.”

After nearly half a century in a vault, his brother’s words can finally be heard.

‘Seven Song Rule’:
The opener for Death, tedious space-rock trio Zolar X—who sported blond wigs, neon antenna ears and played for a ridiculous 90 minutes—reminded me of a very important rule all local musicians should heed: play a seven-song set, then get out. I can’t remember who shared with me this sage rule of thumb—was it you, Kris Anaya?—but it’s one to grow on: Leave the audience wanting more, always.

Arco Arena and the Curse of the Pee Bottle:
In April 1993, a bold local boy attended a Guns N’ Roses Arco Arena gig. He urinated in a plastic bottle, hocked it and hit bassist Duff McKagan. Axl Rose ended the show early.

This cursed Arco: There would be no new home for the Kings. Or Radiohead tour stops. Or whatever blue-chip, tent-pole act Marcos Breton thumps on his chest for. All because someone threw piss at GNR and relegated this city to the sports-and-entertainment Third World.

This week, three As, two Rs, an N and a CEO forever disappeared from 1 Sports Parkway in Natomas, but the balance of power still will not be restored. Someone, please, reverse the curse: Throw pee at Usher, who plays Power Balance Pavilion in May.