Box Set (Smog Veil)
Peter Laughner was only 24 when he died in 1977, but the fact that Smog Veil Records has been able to compile a five-CD box set of his work stands as a testament to how much he contributed during his all-too-short life.
Best known as a co-founder of Cleveland avant-garde punks Pere Ubu and a member of Rocket From the Tombs, fans of those bands will get a lot from these lovingly restored tracks, even if they would be mistaken for thinking that it’s all going to be riotous garage punk rock.
Rather, the five discs take the listener on a journey into the mindset of the young man that would eventually lead to those Ohio icons. The first disc, Fat City Jive, features Laughner’s old band The Original Wolverines, as well as some “coffeebreak concert” material alongside Mike Sands. It’s gloriously ragged acoustic folk, heavily influenced by Dylan and Guthrie. The between-song chatter is almost as interesting as the music.
Disc two, One of the Boys, is largely composed of live covers that betray Laughner’s wider influences. There’s “One of the Boys” (Mott the Hoople) and Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” And then three from Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground — “Rock & Roll,” “Heroin” and “White Light/White Heat.” Other artists covered across the other discs include Television, The Modern Lovers, Richard Hell, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and Eddie Cochran. That all makes for a fine Laughner blueprint.
There’s a great Rocket From the Tombs version of the song “Ain’t It Fun,” written by Laughner and Cheetah Chrome, later recorded by The Dead Boys and covered by Guns N’ Roses, on disc four which will please fans of Cleveland punk. But to be honest, there are gems all over this set.
“I want to do for Cleveland what Brian Wilson did for California and Lou Reed did for New York,” Laughner told The Plain Dealer in 1974. It would be a stretch to suggest that he achieved that goal — sadly, he didn’t live long enough. But he certainly played his part in establishing Cleveland as a rock & roll town.