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(TV) Rocket from the Tombs/Richard Lloyd

Music Review
They Didnt Invent Punk, Though They Could Have 
 Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times
David Thomas, left, and Cheetah Chrome at Southpaw on

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Published: July 31, 2006
The standard story goes that punk rock was invented in
New York by the Ramones. They distilled the Velvet
Underground and the New York Dolls, plus one-shot
mid-1960s singles and the Detroit ferocity of the MC5
and the Stooges, into the formula that came to define
punk: short, fast, catchy, unstoppable. 

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But in some alternate realm, punk might have traced
its genesis to Rocket From the Tombs, which headlined
the Dot Dash Festival of punk rock at Southpaw in
Brooklyn on Saturday night. The initial Rocket From
the Tombs was a Cleveland band that lasted less than a
year (1974-5) and never made a studio album. One of
its songs, Sonic Reducer  with lyrics like dont
need no human race  was as straightforward a punk
song as anything the Ramones were devising in 1974. 

Rocket From the Tombs split into the bands that would
become the Dead Boys, playing straightforward punk
rock, and Pere Ubu, playing noisy, arty songs it
described as avant-garage. Peter Laughner, a
guitarist in Rocket From the Tombs and Pere Ubu, died
of pancreatitis in 1977. 

In 2003 three surviving band members  the singer
David Thomas from Pere Ubu, the guitarist Cheetah
Chrome from the Dead Boys and the bassist Craig Bell 
reconvened Rocket From the Tombs with Steve Mehlman
from the current Pere Ubu on drums and Richard Lloyd,
from the New York punk-era band Television, on guitar.
They did a brief reunion tour and made the first
full-fledged studio album of Rocket From the Tombs
songs, Rocket Redux (Smog Veil). Now they have
reunited again.

Hindsight inevitably colors reunions, and Rocket From
the Tombs started and ended its set on the fast and
punky side. But Mr. Thomas has said he doesnt
consider Rocket From the Tombs a punk band. In the
mid-1970s Rocket From the Tombs drew on 1960s styles
 the Stooges, early psychedelia and garage-rock  and
sang about adolescent frustrations and destructive
urges with a mixture of bluntness and savage irony
that was very punk. 

The current band sounds hardly less volatile than the
group on the rehearsal tapes and live bootlegs that
are all the original Rocket From the Tombs left
behind. The stinging, quivering phrases of Mr. Lloyds
guitar solos change the overall sound but leave it
just as barbed; Mr. Lloyd wrote and sang a new song, a
garage-rocker named Amnesia. Mr. Thomass high,
reedy, cracked croon is more familiar now after 30
years of Pere Ubu, but its still one of rocks most
willful vocal styles, both loopy and insolent. 

Rocket From the Tombs carried 30 Seconds Over Tokyo,
a song about a bombing mission, from ominous
psychedelic vamp to punk detonation; Final Solution
flared up fiercely between each doleful complaint.
While Rocket From the Tombs could bash away at punk
speed, it could also do unpunk things: particularly
ballads like Aint It Fun, a song about junkie life
that, sung by Cheetah Chrome, now sounds as much like
a memorial as a report. On Saturday night, as in 1974,
Rocket From the Tombs fit into no genre and sounded
just right. 


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