Home / The Dead Boys – Live at CBGB/OMFUG 1977 (DVD)

The Dead Boys – Live at CBGB/OMFUG 1977 (DVD)

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Ever seen a guy blow his nose on bologna and eat it? Do ya wanna?

One of the hardest things about being a latter-day punk rocker are the endless tales of how great things used to be. “Man, did you ever see the Nails back at the Abbey in ’77? What… you were three years old? Sucks for you, man.” Aside from closing your eyes and wishing reeeal hard, there’s no way of knowing what it was really like, or whether the Nails were ever actually any good.

The live albums that have survived aren’t always much help. Aside from the odd gem, most live punk classics are famous for being unmitigated disasters. Instead, they’re famous for their antics.

Look at The Stooges’ Metallic K.O. I mean, jeez. … Part of that record is the sound of the band getting full bottles of beer thrown at them. And few people talk about whether the Sex Pistols were actually any good live; all you hear about is the San Francisco gig where they closed with “No Fun,” walked off stage, and broke up for good. But hey, I hear the Germs were really hot that night. To a certain extent I’m guilty of the same sin, using lead singer Stiv Bators’ stage antics as my pull quote (“But really Johno… how did it sound?”).

It did come as a bit of a surprise to find that some enterprising soul had taken it upon themselves to do a three-camera video shoot of a complete Dead Boys set at CBGB in the halcyon (well, the Demerol) days of 1977. Some of you might rightly ask why someone thought to record the Dead Boys at all – in a color three-camera shoot no less—rather than, say The Ramones or Talking Heads.

The answer to that question is that someone at Sire Records loved the Dead Boys and hoped to make them the next big thing. Proof of this is the amusing 1977 video spot helpfully included in the bonus footage, which touts the band as “the most exciting, outrageous band in the United States today.”

Whether or not they were what Sire claimed them to be, Live at CBGB/OMFUG 1977 finally gives us an opportunity to see whether “Sonic Reducer” was a fluke or the real deal.

Finally, a chance to see if the music lives up to the hijinks. Finally, a chance to see whether all us punks up there on a thousand tiny stages, beating ourselves with microphones and sneering while we bash our instruments like they owe us money, perpetrating outrageous antics for larfs (the lead singer of my old band once drank a douche, got real sick) and getting publicly drunk while playing rudimentary melodies at high speeds are actually pursuing a gold standard set lo, these many years ago. Or whether we are just a bunch of second-rate a-holes mimicking an older bunch of second-rate a-holes.

Well, guess what? It turns out that Live at CBGB is a must-see for any punk fan, an outstanding snapshot of a great but half-forgotten punk band in their prime. Suffice to say the Dead Boys, five pallid lumpy morons who just drove in from Cleveland, are more powerful, more friggin’ awesome then any 500 bands that lay claim to their legacy. What’s more is, everything punk kids do today out of tradition (scowling, singing the chorus off-key, being gross onstage, smashing drums), the Boys were doing when it was practically brand new (Newish. Iggy did it first.).

It doesn’t hurt that they had good songs, either.

The band open the show with a blistering version of their classic “Sonic Reducer.” For a band remembered mainly for being loud and snotty, their stage show is surprisingly tight and professional. Not that the playing is perfect (this is punk rock, after all), but it’s great to see a band work well together on stage.

Lead singer Stiv Bators has an undeniable stage presence and innate sense of drama and the other players are as anonymous or flamboyant as Stiv’s antics will allow them to be. Guitarist Cheetah Chrome in particular gets good mileage out of a limited repertoire of crosseyed-scowls and guitar shakes.

But the star of the show is clearly Bators, a scrawny teenager who on this night was doing his level best to claim his place in the all-time punk pantheon alongside Iggy Pop, G.G. Allin and Johnny Rotten.

Five minutes into the show, during a grinding version of the singalong “All of This And More,” Bators kneels to eat a slice of the aforementioned bologna off the stage, and a minute later bloodies his nose on… well… something, and uses another slice to blow his bloody nose. As he sings a verse, he regards the ensnotted meat distractedly before popping it in his mouth.

Not that this is so very different from Bators’ usual enunciatory standards, but the effect is Iggylicious. And make no mistake, Iggy is the main influence here. Stiv even adopts the trademark full backbend and arm whirls of his idol. Bators literally throws himself into his performance with the stamina of the young and high, and the audience (which now includes us) reaps the rewards.

In between all the stage theatrics, the band manage to pull off outstanding versions of “All This And More,” “Down in Flames,” “I Need Lunch” and lesser-known songs like “Revenge.”

Although the Dead Boys owe huge debts to the New York Dolls, the MC5, Alice Cooper, the Stooges and Cleveland’s own Rocket From The Tombs (from whence two ‘Boys came), the songwriting is strong, original, and strikingly self-assured. The band closes with (naturally) a loose and scorching version of the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy.”

Throughout the performance, the cameras focus mainly on the band, with only a few shots of a surprisingly normal-looking crowd (this was the days before safety pins and leather) thrown in for relief. In general, director Rod Swenson does a great job capturing a fantastic set.

The best part of the DVD experience is the extras, and Live at CBGB is no exception. The producers have thoughtfully included band interviews recorded at CBGB that range from the blissfully inarticulate (Johnny Blitz) and the amiably inarticulate (Cheetah Chrome) to the endearingly naïve (Stiv Bators, who offstage looks all of 12 years old). A 2003 interview with an all-grown-up Cheetah Chrome (“Eugene Richard O’Connor”) sets all in context.

Disarmingly honest about his days as a Dead Boy (“We were a bunch of morons”), the native Clevelander reminisces at length about driving back and forth from Ohio to New York, living on $5 a day just to hang out at CBGB, and about the New York scene in 1977. According to him, the Dead Boys were “volume, speed, action, light, frustration, [and] beer,” which sounds about right.

Also agreeing to an interview is CBGB founder Hilly Kristol, who argues that the Dead Boys were set to conquer the world. Interestingly, it becomes clear that Kristol was somewhat of a father figure to the band, although his guidance was not enough to keep the band from disintegrating within two years of recording their first album.

From an anthropological standpoint, nearly more interesting than even the Dead Boys themselves, is the bonus footage of the opening act. We all remember the Dead Boys, the Germs, the Damned, the Clash, Television, etcetera and so on world without end. But what of the bands that didn’t make it? Who were 1977’s also-rans, and what were they thinking?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Steel Tips.

I don’t think I will ever get tired of watching an aggressively spaced-out dude with one solid dreadlock set his shirt on fire, igniting strings of firecrackers hidden underneath. I will also never get tired of watching a fah-laming baldheaded 300-lb biker who moves just like a Supreme or a fresh-faced teenaged girl in a Catholic school outfit handle backing vocal/dance/handclap duties for a three-piece band who look “free jazz” and play garage.

The Steel Tips’ music itself, a song called “Crazy Baby” or perhaps “Driving Me Crazy,” is fairly unremarkable by any standards, but the sheer godawful freaky-weird spectacle of their live show is not to be missed.

Forget about the Zappa clone moaning “she’s driving me crazy!” into his mic and focus on the biker queen and the schoolgirl moving in careful sychnronicity, serious as a heart attack and totally in their element. It’s a doorway to a world completely forgotten and perhaps better left behind, but perfectly entertaining.

(This post also appears at The Ministry of Minor Perfidy. The Ministry of Minor Perfidy is clinically proven to build healthy teeth and bones.*

(*The Ministry of Minor Perfidy not clinically proven to build healthy teeth and bones.)

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About John Owen

  • clash77


    Great review! I think I’m jealous. I have to admit I was skeptical when I first learned of this DVD’s very existence, but now I’m eagerly awaiting its arrival in the old magic mailbox.

    I’m an old school guy, 48 this coming November, and was fortunate enough to see the Dead Boys a few times here in the Murder City (Detroit), back when we were full of piss and vinegar and were convinced punk rock was going to change the world, if not the music biz. Feh…

    Am I the only one who sees the cruel irony in Stiv’s death? After years of abusing himself both on stage and off, including trying to shove a microphone up his ass during a Lords of The New Church gig gone horribly wrong at Detroit’s St. Andrew’s Hall, he gets his ticket punched in Paris back in 1990 after somebody left tire tracks up his back? As if we really needed another reason to hate the French, eh?

    Anyhoo, keep up the good work!

    Clark in Detroit

    P.S. Stiv also had a bit part in John Waters’ “Polyester.”

  • What a great teaser / pull quote though. Got me to click. Well that and wondering whether I was going to put it on Advance.net.

    Answer, yes. It will be here before the end of the day.

    No not yet. .. Not yet. Now.

  • Eric Olsen

    here’s his site

  • HW,

    Great story. In a sort of related riff, my old punk rock band, Pipebomb used to do a cover of “Sonic Reducer”. One afternoon we opened for NYC punk band Letch Patrol and before the show we got to do one sound check song so we did “Reducer”. The Letch Patrol guys came up to us and wondered how a bunch of hillbillies from Nashville, TN even knew the song. It seems that they also did a cover version of the tune so the sparse crowd at the all-ages show that day got treated to the tune twice. The irony of it all is that Cheetah Chrome was living in Nashville at the time. I think he may even still be around.

  • HW Saxton

    I got to see The Dead Boys way back in
    the summer of 1978 in L.A. at the now
    defunct “Starwood” on Santa Monica Blvd.
    Or almost got to see them I should say.

    They opened with an ass rippin’ version
    of ‘Sonic Reducer’ then followed that up
    with ‘Caught W/ The Meat In Your Mouth.

    Then, during the third song into their
    set(I forget which tune),Stiv & Cheetah
    got into a fight; yelling at & shoving
    each other about a pair of boots that
    one of them was wearing.They stormed off
    the stage about 10 minutes after they’d
    started. End of set. In retrospect that
    was pretty “Punk Rock” though. LOL.

    My friends and I were highly pissed off,
    as we had driven almost 300 miles from
    Vegas down to L.A. just to catch these
    jokers.The night wasn’t a TOTAL loss as
    we did end up catching The Dickies show
    at the Whiskey A Go-Go that same evening
    which wasn’t a bad consolation prize.

  • great review johno. But are they as photogenic as gg allin?

  • godoggo

    I saw the Lords a few times. They were way better live than their records. I remember they used to do Pills by the Dolls.

  • What about the voice of Geddy Lee? How did it get so high? I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy? (I know him, and he does) and you’re my fact checkin cuz.

    Thanks Wally, correction noted and made. Nice catch, you clod!

  • I know all those California cities look the same, but the Sex Pistols last gig was at the Winterland in San Francisco. Good review otherwise.

    your fact checking cuz wally bangs

    advice: go back in and edit the location to San Fran and make me look like an idiot.

  • Eric Olsen

    I have to check that one out too

  • Not that Stiv Bators is anything like Ben Franklin. Ol’ Ben got more pussy.

  • i think it was him and Lords of the New Church.

    they were the first rock band that cusack and robbins got to shoot a video for…but then the lead singer was killed during the shoot.

    man, i’ve gotta get a copy of that movie.

  • Mark, you’re right– Bators was in Tapeheads! Man, what a loss when he died.

    One of the best things for me, who turned 30 last year and is therefore WAY too young to have experienced any of this firsthand, is to hear these five guys who to me have always been more personages than people talking about stuff. It’s not the Legendary! Stiv! Bators!, but rather a scrawny teenager with a bad acne problem and a twitch speaking none too cogently in a thick Northeast Ohio accent. It’s a little like reading, say, Ben Franklin’s letters, in that it gives you a picture of a person very much at odds with what you might get a first glance.

    This is especially true of Gene O’Connor. I just want to buy that dude a beer and talk a while.

    (Of course, it might mainly be the accent for me. When “Felony” Jim Traficant opens his mouth, I have a hard time not hanging on his every word, because with his Youngstown accent, he sounds exactly like my father.)

  • Eric Olsen

    yes, as “Dick Slammer,” according to Amazon – I was not aware of that

  • wasn’t he in that movie “Tapeheads”?

  • Eric Olsen

    Marty is THE authority, that’s for sure.

    Great review Johno, brought back many a memory of late’-70s Cleveland. I saw them a few times here, and like Marty says, they were highly variable but great when good. I met them and talked a couple of times too. Most striking is how tiny they were: smurf punks.

    I was very sad when Stiv died – he sure changed his style, image and approach to music with Lords of the New Church but was always interesting.

    Ah memories.

  • Mark, do pick it up. You will NOT be sorry. This is one of the very few review copies I have come by that makes my friends plead– plead with me to let them have a burned copy. And I don’t give it to them, either. They gotta buy this sucker.

    Marty, I feel all like a kid again… What was it like?????? (you don’t have to answer that… it just amuses me to ask.)

  • yow, i might have to pick this one up.

    Young, Loud & Snotty is one of my favorite early punk records.

    “Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth”, indeed.

  • Marty Thau

    I was there and they were great — on
    occasion. Unfortunately their sets were inconsistent … but when they were “on” they were some of the best.