Friday, September 21, 2007

THE DWARVES – “LICK IT / NOTHING” 45

This one just floored me when I first heard it, which occurred the same month or so that I bought THE DWARVES’ “Toolin’ for A Warm Teabag”, an EP that to this day rivals the first RED CROSS 12” for over-and-done punk rock godhead. I was just getting over the first show of theirs I’d seen in late 1988, which I’ll recount for you in a second, but when I got their ‘88 “Lick It / Nothing” single (a UK-only thing on Ubik records), I knew the DWARVES had been total superstars for at least a year following their loud-psych period (represented in the LPs “Horror Stories” and the earlier SUBURBAN NIGHTMARE record). I may not have been present at the creation, but I hooked on early & rode the violent wave for dear life. This single in particular still totally rules. That the band is still alive more than two decades after their birth is a musical abomination, though I certainly understand payin’ the bills.

Here’s what I wrote about the band and this era a few years ago:

Among the top 10 rock moments of my life was the first time I saw THE DWARVES in 1988 at San Francisco’s Covered Wagon Saloon. The band was in full bloom from their transition from horror-splashed 60s-inspired garage band to raging hardcore-inspired 30-seconds-flat punk rock band, but I didn’t know that yet. Expecting a heavy dose of angry, keyboard-driven psychedelia, I instead got a ballistic six song, five minute set with so much crazed misanthropic energy that the small crowd was driven into the nether regions of the club, fleeing singer Blag Jesus with a mixture of terror and shit-eating glee. Jesus would announce the song title (“This one’s called “Motherfucker”, or “This one’s called “Fuckhead”), and it was 1,2,3, panic for the next forty-five seconds. The whole band was totally nuts, but from this day forward my favorite Dwarve – nay, my favorite rock and roller – was bassist Salt Peter, who affected the most ridiculous bad-ass leather-jacketed rock poses you could imagine, a combination of the exceptionally effeminate and the Hell’s Angel-style ugly. I can’t do it justice in words, but the memories are strong. Needless to say, I was more than hooked, and I proceeded to attend pretty much every show they played in SF up until about 1991 or so, when they had convincingly passed into mediocrity and self-parody.

The band’s whole blood/sex/violence shtick was, I maintain, just that: a shtick. Sure, they might have been violent, hateful losers in real life as well, but there was a real tongue-in-cheek spirit and hidden intelligence there that was hard to locate on the surface. When I wrote the band a fan letter the next month, politely enquiring as to where I could find their “Lucifer’s Crank” cassette, I received a very friendly, conversational handwritten note back from Blag, patiently explaining their discography and thanking me profusely for my fandom. He then signed off with a “PS – Go Fuck Yourself”. The next year that amazing “Toolin’ For a Warm Teabag” 12”EP came out, still an absolute high-water mark for screaming, socket-bursting, in the red punk rock music. It approximates that first live show I saw quite well: 6 tracks, about 6 minutes, and every last one of them a killer. Soon thereafter the rest of the world began to find out. When Mudhoney came to town in 1990, a drunken Mark Arm couldn’t stop shouting “The Dwarves! The Dwarves! Fuck you up and get high!” to the crowd throughout his own band’s set – seems The Dwarves had made their Seattle debut a few days earlier, and secured their Sub Pop deal in the process. They also were playing their best new song since “Let’s Get Pregnant” or “Sit On My Face” – the masterwerk, the uber-genius, the supremely rarified “Fuck You Up and Get High”. Unlike so many of the fake-“dangerous” bands of the era (COWS, HELMET, HOLE, BASTARDS etc.), the 1987-1991 Dwarves stand up tall even today. I’ll advance the proposition that they successfully took punk rock as far as it had been taken up to that point, and subsequent blaze-punk bands like the Zodiac Killers are only basking in the mid-period Dwarves’ considerable shadow (good as they are). For reference, I wholeheartedly suggest the 39-track “Free Cocaine” retrospective CD; the out of print “Toolin’ For Lucifer’s Crank” CD, and the incredible (and incredibly rare) “Lick It / Nothing” 45, a thrilling encapsulation of their psych-to-punk transition that finds them right smack in the middle of the operation.


Play or Download THE DWARVES – “Lick It” (Side A)
Play or Download THE DWARVES – “Nothing” (Side B)

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I got to see them in London when SubPop was the biggest thing since tea w/ milk in it. The indie rock and trendy set came to see a subpop showcase and I kept grinning in anticipation of what was going to happen to these clowns. Out came the Dwarves smacking people, someone at the front of the stage got kicked and a bass guitar was raised overhead to smash someone. I can still see the look on the the face of this uber trendy woman who hadn't bargained for this 4 minute atrocity...people tried to get back their money, it was bliss.

Karl said...

On a visit Stateside back in early 1991 I saw a Dwarves show at the Gaslight in Hollywood which can't have lasted more than 10 minutes & would have to be the most out of control performance I have ever seen. There were a bunch of longish bench type tables at the front of the stage which Blag upon appearing on stage proceeded to hurl out of the way scattering the smallish crowd that had turned up to see them perform.

This of course had the effect of the Gaslight bouncers running at the stage, at which point Blag started screaming at them over & over something along the lines of just wanting 'to play fuckin' rock'n'roll'. The fact that the guy looked (& was behaving) totally unhinged actually had the bouncers looking very apprehensive about jumping him before they actually backed down & left him & the band to complete their very short set.

Whether this was their 'schtick' or not, I couldn't say, but it was probably the wildest thing I have ever seen. Even more so than the GG Allin show I saw in Philadelphia months later. I got the opportunity to see the Dwarves again in Denver towards the end of 1991, & it wasn't the same. By that stage Salt Peter was gone, they had added a second guitar & were playing much longer sets with none of the danger of that Gaslight show.

Then when they toured Australia a couple of years back I didn't bother seeing them as I knew there'd be no way they'd be anywhere near as good as they were at that first show of theirs I saw.

luKe said...

The Dwarves played in Belgium as part of a Subpop package with The Supersuckers and The Reverend Horton Heat. Everybody who entered the club received a little paper that said that the club could not be held responsable for damages or injuries. When The Dwarves appeared on stages, 'He Who Cannot Be Named' spitted me right in the eye (ouch!) and started to smash his guitar. The sound was a bomb! Most of the people kept a certain distance while a few pogoed and got kicked in the face every now and then. At the time, my wife had a broken arm (not my fault!) and followed the show upstairs in disbelief. When the 15-minutes show was over, The Dwarves went upstairs to the backstage and I remember how she was scared as hell: besieged by The Dwarves! No need though, 'cuz later in the evening, I heard Blag Dahlia asking someone what he thought of the show and if it was fun so in the end, I realised it was just some kind of entertaining freakshow. Memories are made of this...

tim ellison said...

Despite the write-off, Blag remains an interesting figure. Similar to Naoko/Nancy of Shonen Knife - these are very talented people who continue to show signs of real vision in spite of perhaps struggling sometimes with their own formulae.

G said...

I'll say it again:
Toolin' = Jealous Again