THE GERMS – Live at The Starwood, Dec. 3, 1980 (Rhino Handmade, 2010)
There was always something incredibly severe about the way THE GERMS sounded, playing together.
Pat’s guitar, so trebly and screee-producing, took an unholy joy cutting broken shards of riffs into Lorna’s dumpy bass runs and Don’s frequent rhythmic change-ups. Darby was an untethered, unrestrained primal force all his own, his animalistic howl floating off into psychic dissociation with eerie ease. On stage, they’d lurch from self-indulgent childsplay to ass-flattening artistic depth within the very same beat, with their potent musical alchemy undercut by an equally potent recreational drug use, not to mention a disarming innocence that humanised the cultish ideas Darby toyed with. To say they didn’t have peers at the time is only to point out the obvious: lots of bands sound indebted to THE RAMONES and later BLACK FLAG, but who, really, ever even tried to sound like these fuckers? It was shambolic, primeval, and fucking nuts first and foremost, and it blew minds in subtler ways than anyone cared to articulate at the time.
In my younger years, well, let’s just say I was so taken by what I heard that I spent over half of the 80′s searching out GERMS detritus from wherever I could unearth it. I’d prod older punker types for stories about Darby: “he was actually really sweet, but couldn’t skate for shit.” I’d get really stoked about GERMS spin-offs like CELEBRITY SKIN and RUTHENSMEAR and DEATH FOLK, even when they featured cameos by Nina Hagen or did jaunty, un-punk covers of QUEEN songs. Heck I even once rang Rodney Bingenheimer on the air and offered to buy his copy of the “Lexicon Devil” 45 that was signed by the entire band, only he didn’t like my kid-friendly price and hung up on me, spinning THE PANDORAS’ “You Don’t Satisfy” in reply. Hrmph.
And now their final show has arrived, in the form of a limited, expensive boutique release from Rhino Handmade that comes in a little box with a bunch of B&W inserts that try to mimic lo-rent HC punk aesthetics, but somehow feel just, well, cheap. Fans will no doubt be familiar with at least some of this set: a couple of these tracks saw light on the What We Do Is Secret 12″ way back in 1981, others surfaced on less-than legit but crucial releases like Lion’s Share and Cat’s Clause in the later 80′s and early 90′s, while the whole thing became common mp3 trade fodder during Napster’s heyday. But a new GERMS release will always be an event in my narrow-minded world and makes me, a man who still has a big GERMS treadmark on his brain, really really happy.
As a teen I met a number of people who actually attended this show, although to a man they were who Jonathan Gold refers to in the liners as the newly shaven: recently converted suburban kids itching to see what could’ve created the ungodly power documented on the GERMS (GI) LP and how debauched this Darby Crash of lore could actually get. Every one of those folks told me this show was a defining one. It was the last stand of THE GERMS and indeed Hollywood punk, the point where dozens of emerging HC punkers stopped looking back and were given free reign to create a future in their own image. It kicked the events in SoCal into a particularly manic, violent overdrive throughout the early 80′s, setting into motion dozens of little hardcore stories both musical and non-musical alike, not all which had happy endings. And even with 30 years hindsight, it’s still a glorious moment to behold.
Pat says this was THE GERMS best show ever, but that’s a red herring, since live they were always a step away from complete insanity and just shy of total sonic breakdown. Unlike in Decline of Western Civilization, here Darby hasn’t been totally capsized by drug intake, though his singing remains a few beats behind and often isn’t even into the mic at all. Pat’s gtr sound is truly vicious, if at times endearingly out of tune. And while Don and Lorna stumble dozens – no, make that hundreds – of times, they also sound closer in spirit to their hallowed studio recordings than ever before. But it’s silly to even talk about THE GERMS in musical terms alone, since on this night possession turned these party-wreckers into a force capable of completely feral, unhinged versions of “Manimal” and especially “No God” that must’ve left even old fans speechless. Between songs, yes you get Mike Muir’s infamous look-at-my-nose speech, but also Darby at his most ernest, pleading to the young audience to pay attention and “make it like it was” since “we’re not gonna do this again.” He made good on that promise.