Maybe it’s the distance of 33 years that makes all the difference. When Mars’s set at the Artists Space was recorded on May 6, 1978, they were tagged as being part of the No Wave movement. To those of us who lived outside of the Big Apple, so much about No Wave seemed not so much scary, as pointless. Maybe it was just me, but the NY critics that I regularly read were tripping all over themselves to call this the “next big thing.” As far as I can tell, the crowds stayed away in droves.
Well, maybe there was something to this stuff after all. Listening to Mars Live At Artists Space today is like taking a trip back in time. Just to set the record straight, I don’t think that they were a particularly good, or particularly bad band. Pretty average, to be honest. Besides Mars, the Artists Space hosted Theoretical Girls, the Contortions, DNA, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks among others that week. It was clearly the “in” spot to see and be seen, for about a minute.
And lest anyone forget just how important this record is, one look at the back cover will set you straight. The magic credit reads: “Produced by Byron Coley & Thurston Moore,” and that alone should guarantee platinum success for Mars.
The release itself is pretty unusual. As far as I can tell, it has been issued solely on vinyl, and features the two sets Mars performed that night. The eight titles on each side are identical, however their performances of each tune vary dramatically. For example, with set opener “3E” the version on set one is only a fragment, as it sounds as if someone forgot to turn on the tape-recorder in time. Still, it is a powerhouse compared to the full version on side two. The same holds true for track two, “Cats.” I was beginning to think that maybe the drugs had kicked in too strongly during set two, but then I compared the versions of “11000 Volts.” This brain-damaged dirge is perfect, and should be considered the first ever “grunge” song. Put this side by side with Blood Circus’ “Six Foot Under” from 1988 and you will find very little difference.
One of the trademarks of No Wave were the aggressive (often female) vocals, and with “Helen Fordsdale” Mars delivers most convincingly. The most musically adventurous the four-some get is during “Tunnel,” both versions pull out a multitude of effects. Finally we come to the band’s traditional closing number, “Peurto Rican Ghost” a wild bit of No Wave that finds the group (and their audience) equally drained.
Mars were charter members of a brilliantly decadent musical scene. While the bankrupt NYC was actually in the process of rebuilding, and gaining worldwide recognition for the CBGB bands, No Wave’s intent was in making the unholiest noise imaginable. No matter what you think of Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch, Glenn Branca, et al. this is where it all began – and Mars were there right from the start. Besides containing some great rock and roll, Live At Artists Space is also an invaluable historical document of a time in the downtown New York scene which will never be duplicated.
Live At Artists Space is available from Feeding Tube Records.