Rocket From the Tombs with U.S. Maple at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), tonight (Thursday, December 4). $15 advance. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Rocket from the tombs played just 12 Cleveland area shows over their 14-month run, but the repercussions from the punk rock explosion they helped ignite back in 74 are still being felt today. Long before some San Diego record geeks decided to name their band Rocket from the Crypt in honour of their near-forgotten forebears, the legendary status of Rocket from the Tombs was ensured when the band split in 75, giving rise to the Dead Boys and Pere Ubu, who went on to lead the suburban punk rock rebellion.
Rocket members Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz hooked up with Stiv Bators and transformed Rocket tunes Sonic Reducer, Down In Flames and Ain't It Fun into Dead Boys anthems, leaving their former cohorts David Thomas and the late Peter Laughner Life Stinks, Final Solution and 30 Seconds Over Tokyo to launch Pere Ubu.
Since Rocket from the Tombs never released a recording during their eyeblink of a career, the only way to hear their early versions of familiar Dead Boys and Pere Ubu songs was through badly recorded bootlegs that seemed to be dubbed from eighth-generation cassettes.
It turns out that the proliferation of these unsanctioned releases played a key role in the unlikely return of Rocket from the Tombs.
While the poor-quality recordings prompted Thomas to dig up the masters of the Rocket demos and rehearsal tapes - issued as The Day The Earth Met Rocket From The Tombs (Smog Veil) CD - Cheetah Chrome had a different reaction.
"For years I didn't own any Rockets recordings," he explains from his Nashville home. "So when I started seeing the bootlegs appear on eBay, I had to check 'em out. When I got the stuff, I was like, 'Goddamn! This blows away everything that's out there right now!'
"So I added Final Solution and 30 Seconds Over Tokyo to the shows I was playing with my own band. David came to a gig we did in Cleveland, and we hooked up afterwards. He said, 'Let's not discount doing something together. '"
When Thomas mentioned to me last year that the release of the Rocket from the Tombs archival recordings was "only the beginning," I had no idea he had a full-scale resurrection in mind.
But in June, Thomas, Cheetah Chrome and Rockets bassist Craig Bell along with Pere Ubu drummer Steve Mehlman and Television guitarist Richard Lloyd made a few club appearances as Rocket from the Tombs, to uniformly ecstatic praise.
Still, I wasn't convinced the 50-somethings could actually pull it off until I got the advance of the Rocket Redux (Smog Veil) disc they recorded on their days off during this summer's get-acquainted swing.
The scorching blast through the old set list - including Frustration, So Cold, What Love Is, Muckraker, Never Gonna Kill Myself Again and Amphetamine in addition to all the classics - sounds much more vital than anyone could've hoped. They've still got it.
"This could easily have turned out to be another one of those lame reunion things," chuckles Cheetah Chrome. "We're very lucky to have Steve playing drums, and a guitarist like Richard Lloyd adds a whole new dimension. We have such different styles, our interplay works really well."
According to Thomas, the current version of Rocket from the Tombs "will not be a 'real' band until we start writing new material." That hasn't happened yet, but Cheetah Chrome remains optimistic.
"I think that's something both David and I would like to see happen. If we make it through this tour, then we'll see. Who knows? We could piss each other off so badly tomorrow that the whole thing could be off.
"We're two very different people, and we still have moments when we're not comfortable around each other. It's the same old artistic temperaments at work, only now we're curmudgeonly old guys who are very set in our ways.
"Really, the only thing we have in common is a love for this music. So far, that's been enough to keep us together.