THE SAINTS with FRANTIC CITY at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, April 27), 9 pm. $13.50 advance, $15 door. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
Bob Geldof has been responsible for more than his fair share of horrible tunes over the years, but he's at least sharp enough to argue that "rock music in the 70s was changed by three bands: the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and the Saints."
Unfortunately, the contribution made by Chris Bailey and the Saints isn't as well known or appreciated as that of their ground-floor punk peers, despite the fact that the devastating one-two punch of (I'm) Stranded and Eternally Yours still sound remarkably fresh and relevant, which is more than can be said of the 1976-77 recordings of their contemporaries. And unlike almost every other group from the graduating class of 76, the Saints are still very much active and vital.
Over the years, some critics, with the benefit of hindsight, have postulated that the reason the Saints are often left out of discussions of the punk era is that they were outsiders from Brisbane, Australia, while others have argued it was because their hair was too long.
As ridiculous as it might sound, the latter theory is much closer to the truth. The Saints were never in fashion, nor did they ever try to be fashionable. While everyone else on the London scene was spiking their hair and slavishly sporting torn shirts with safety pins, Bailey and his boys had the balls to get onstage in clean shirts and pressed trousers as if they'd just arrived from the office.
So you wouldn't really expect the Saints to fall in line with the rest of their contemporaries, to reunite with previous members who've been working at "respectable" jobs in the interim so they could stumble through half-assed versions of the oldies to mark their 30th anniversary. At least not while they've got a potent batch of new material from the recent Nothing Is Straight In My House (UFO).
"So I guess the question is, 'So it's 30 years on and with all this punk nostalgia bollocks going on, why aren't the Saints trying to cash in on it?'" says Bailey.
"That, to me, is anathema. That's not why the Saints formed and it's not why we exist now.
"For many years now, people making rock music would get their rock almanac and read up to page 12, get an image together, figure out a marketing strategy, and then the music followed as an afterthought. One of the things that makes the Saints work is that we still have a sense of adolescence in what we do. I don't mean in any conscious way - there's just something youthful in playing noisy music."
Bailey's got three solid decades' worth of primo material from which to draw up his nightly set list, but he doesn't need to reach that far back to pull out a classic. At this point, if he gets the urge to tear into one of his adolescent anthems like This Perfect Day or Know Your Product, it's because it feels right.
"For a number of years I didn't play any of those early songs because the Saints have done lots of stuff and I've gone off on a gazillion solo jags. But since the release of Nothing Is Straight, we've done more touring than we have for ages, and we found that the songs from the new album fit quite comfortably with many of the noisier songs from previous phases of the band. Up until last year, I hadn't performed (I'm) Stranded in, like, 15 years. It's never been my favourite song, but I've found I can sing it with a straight face these days, which is interesting in itself."
Although Bailey's long-time pal Marty Wilson-Piper can't join the Saints' current North American swing, Bailey has learned to love playing as a three-piece with his rock-solid rhythm section of Caspar Wijnberg and Peter Wilkinson.
"I believe that you should have a lead guitarist and someone else out front behaving like a loony. We never really planned to work as a trio; it just happened. So we thought, 'Let's just do it ourselves.'
"It's very liberating for me, and with only one noisy guitar blasting away, you can actually hear the drums for a change!"