Like a lot of bands from the punk rock 70s and early 80s, the Avengers got a lot of mileage from a limited output. Seven songs on two EPs released in ’77 and ’79, both fairly rote guitar-based ranting with political opinions based on nothing.
Regardless, the music remains a feisty artifact worth taking out for a spin on occasion. The plodding drummer is more apparent today than it was on the first of 50th spin of EP, which was produced by ex-Pistol Steve Jones in 1979 and featured two mix tape staples, “White Nigger” and “American in Me.” Both tunes had the thick foam that was Jones guitar all over them, leading to speculation that Jones actually played the bombastic riffs that defined them. On a listen today, it seems obvious.
It’s a mixed bag, though, sitting down and plowing through two CDs worth of Avengers material that includes the EPs, some live stuff and outtakes. The show-stopper today is “Corpus Christi,” a mid-tempo tune that portends a much wiser lyrical sense on the part of singer and focal point Penelope Houston, an alternative Patti Smith who made herself a small but creative world in music over the years. I heard “Corpus” and wondered how I had overlooked it before.
The Avengers, according to their story, leaned on Stooges songs to pick up some chops—the best place to start, it all goes back to Detroit, of course—and set up shop as a punk band along with dozens of others. Latching on with LA label Dangerhouse was a big deal in retrospect. Listening to “I Believe in Me” from the first EP, knowing now the vocals used were actually a scratch track, makes it more impressive.
The biggest Avengers gig in their adopted hometown of SF was opening for the last Pistols show at Winterland. Some of the live cuts on this are from that show—a band trying its hardest but an effort that makes it clear that the studio was the best place to make the Avengers a band.
The Avengers was not a burner band, and its attempts to be Black Flag on songs like “Fuck You” is an amateurish stab at overdoing the BPM. It illustrates that some bands, even in the learn-as-you-go musical structures of the time, were better at some things.
It’s easy to be analytical glancing at groundbreaking records today, music that set the table for a short-lived revolution. It’s harder to imagine what it was like to sit down at a table with some booze and whatever else and listen to a parade of sounds that had never been imagined until just months previous.
Yea, the Avengers added to the heap of noise that was coming out at the time. Some of it was good, and as I weave through this—31 songs, some dupes—I can pluck a half-dozen that I would want to hear again. That’s a pretty good ratio considering that we were inventing the wheel back then. [Water]
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