Here we are again, up the Underworld for the latest in the venue's long-running series of punk 'n' related nights. Our first band this evening look hardly old enough to be allowed on licensed premises - if you'd told me The Blankheads had bunked off homework club to be here tonight, I'd be inclined to believe you. But they've got a gutsy twin-guitar sound, and a neat line in staccato riff 'n' holler songs, as if The Clash's first album is their principal influence. They might be unfeasibly young, but they know their musical territory, and they kick it around with confidence. These days, when all the shock-horror headlines could easily lead the casual observer to believe that all the youth of today do is eat junk food, obsess over computer games, and shoot each other on south London housing estates, it's good to see evidence that some of them, at least, are doing something worthwhile with their time: playing loud and snotty punk rock.
Love and a .45 filter first-wave punk influences through a grubby old grunge tea towel, and the result is music which combines dangerously jagged edges and devilishly catchy tunes. The guitar sound is abrasive, the beats never less than insistent. The singer, bounding around beneath a mop of blonde hair, lets rip with a rasp that makes me fear for her vocal chords. But she's got a ton of personality, and this, combined with those catchy tunes, is the band's secret superpower, the factor that pushes them above the seething mass of shout 'n' bash punker contenders. You could easily imagine the band breaking out of the punk zone and finding a bigger audience among everyone who likes their pop songs served with a piquant dollop of sharp guitar sauce. 'Breakdown Payout' is the number that just might do it, too, for it's got a mighty fine hear-it-once-it's-in-your-head-all-day chorus, and when was the last time you heard one of those? If Love and a .45 represent the future of pop-punk, then it would seem it's going to be a cross between CBGB-era Blondie and Dinosaur Jr. You know what? I'll 'ave some of that.
If you stuck your head round the door of the Crobar, shouted 'Anyone want to form a band?' and then assembled a rockin' combo from the various random reprobates who shouted 'Hell, yeah!' you'd probably end up with something like Dragster. A motley crew of punks, psychobillies, and glam-heads, they look like they've stepped out of a Judge Dredd crowd scene. More to the point, they certainly know how to cook up a steaming rock 'n' roll brew. They sound like they've grabbed influences from all their assorted members - there's a bit of glam guitar, there goes a punkzoid drum tattoo. Here comes a hurtling rockabilly number, but then they'll crank up the guitars and take things into the hard-as-nails rock zone. It sounds like a recipie for a goshawful mess, but in fact it works. Dragster manage to tie all their strands of influence together - not least because they're firmly led from the front by a singer who comes on like the more assertive sister of Bettie Page. She's the focal point of the band, the prisim that brings all the rays of Dragster's rocknoise together. It's one of those 'it shouldn't work, but it does' things, I suppose. And that's very often the area where the best stuff is to be found.
Like just about everyone who's ever taken an interest in ye olde punk rock, I'm familiar with the story of the last ever gig by the Sex Pistols - that fraught and fractured 1978 show at Winterland in San Fransisco. But I've never heard a word about the support band on that night. In fact, I never even knew there was a support band. But there was, and it was the Avengers. Almost 30 years on from their brush with fame - I use the word 'fame' lightly here, since obviously the band never got to be very famous - the Avengers are back on tour, and here they are, before our very eyes, looking entirely fit and purposeful. Fronted by original members vocalist Penelope Houston and guitarist Greg Ingraham (who is wearing an Epoxies T-shirt, which instantly makes him Mister Cool Beans in my book) the band hits a chunky punk groove. I don't know if this is just me, but there's something very Californian about their sound. I find myself thinking of quintessential Cali-punkers X, for the Avengers have that same robust yet melodic sound. It's as if every Californian punk has a Beach Boys album lurking in the back of their record collection, and the influence just can't help seeping out. The crowd leaps and pogos and sings along - clearly, there are people here tonight for whom the Avengers are returning heroes. It's all boisterously good humoured stuff, but always with enough of an edge to keep the experience sharp. I'm converted into an Avengers fan before the set's half over, but when the show finally draws to a close I'm left ruefully contemplating the convoloutions of rock 'n' roll history that have resulted in the Avengers ending up in the not-quite-as-well-known-as-they-should-be zone. That Pistols audience in '78 may not have known it, but they got good stuff thown at them in the support slot that night..
more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.