PUMPING FARFISAS; GRAINY OR FUZZY and reverberant guitars; primitive quasi-surf drumming; Sky Saxon/Arthur Lee-derived Jaggerisms — the garage band has become a clubby institution. But nearly 30 years back, before paisley undergrounds and indie rock were the norm, fans of the genre had nowhere to turn till a tiny mass of fanatics coalesced around 1972's Nuggets, compiled by Lenny Kaye. This lone collection of proto-punk one-offs by the Count Five, the Standells, Barry and the Remains, and other American Beatles/ Stones/Animals copycats set a new world in motion, the first of whose inhabitants to make a major-label disc were Boston's Jeff “Monoman” Conolly and his band, DMZ.
Starting their career in 1975 in the dying days of the Dolls and at the rise of punk rock, DMZ were as close to the MC5 or even the almighty Stones as any band of their time. After DMZ's first gig, Conolly remade the pouting Anglophiles into the first serious '60s smackdown, having won the vocalist slot from David Johansen wannabe Adam Bomb with a lethal version of “Search and Destroy” at the same rehearsal that saw a fired Bomb walk out in tears. “It was harsh, man,” he says.
Onstage in his jump suit, Conolly was possessed. From behind painted-over shades, smacking his battered organ or thrashing blindly at a triangle hung from the pipes at the Rat or Cantone's in Boston, falling hard on his face from time to time, he became a legend. “Wired” scarcely describes the cherubic young record-collecting geekoid from Connecticut; “scary” would be more appropriate. If you'd been too young to see Roky Erickson, or Iggy Pop pre-Bowie, Monoman (so named for his devotion to the church of monaural recordings) was the best show in town. Covering the Stooges, the Chocolate Watch Band, the Troggs and obscurities from beyond the most jaded ear, DMZ vibrated. However manic the Hives, Mooney Suzuki, Hellacopters or Nomads may aspire to be, they couldn't carry Conolly's jockstrap.
Flanked by guitarists Peter Greenberg and JJ Rassler and anchored by the Watts/Wyman-esque rhythm section of Rick Coraccio and Paul Murphy, DMZ (allegedly named not for any demilitarized zone, but for “down my zipper”) made mincemeat of the pseudo-Aerosmiths polluting local clubs. They got a deal with Sire Records and released their only full-length disc. It was a disaster.
“We did it on Long Island, at the place where Pat Benatar and bands like that recorded,” says Monoman today. “I could hear this awful clicking on the bass drum. They said when all was finished, I couldn't hear it — but you can hear it today. And I screamed, like, seven times per song, trying to be [Sonics singer] Gerry Roslie. It died, man.” (Birdman will reissue this disc.)
Greenberg left, and the band floundered for a short while before Rassler also retired and DMZ morphed into the Lyres. Despite never making a major-label disc, the Lyres were vastly more successful than DMZ — less frantic and far more adherent to Nuggets orthodoxy. They were also the best night out Boston had to offer in the early '80s, irresistible dance music that turned hard from the day's synthesized fare and helped usher in Amerindie. Matador has reissued most of their stuff, and all of it is crucial.
ENDLESS VAN TOURS OF THE STATES broke some ground, the Lyres had some underground hits like “I Want To Help You Ann” (recently unearthed by Courtney Love), and Conolly and crew were at least at subsistence level — until a 1988 Seattle gig where drummer Dave Bass calmly got up during the
second song and hurled his throne at Conolly's head. The Boston version of the Lyres
“I'm supposed to be impossible to get along with,” fumes the singer from his Boston apartment. “I never tried to kill anyone!
“I left Boston to get away, or Bass would have killed me for real,” he says. So Conolly moved to San Diego, where he worked at a munitions plant making Apache helicopters and formed a West Coast Lyres that lasted one tour. Then the maestro returned to Boston and re-formed both bands (sans Bass and reuniting with Paul Murphy); he gladly plays the garage circuit to this day. DMZ and the Lyres both will be among the venerables at the L.A. Shakedown, with interchangeable rhythm section, and original guitarist Rassler in the former group. Conolly is tickled pink, although he isn't thrilled about the neo-garage movement. “I like Avril Lavigne's 'Skater Boy' better than anything on so-called modern-rock stations. It's fun rock, like 'Beat on the Brat' was. And that new Christina Aguilera tune, man, it's like the Latino 'Hey Jude,' that's what I dig. All of this posed stuff, I mean, it really has become too textbook.”
And he wrote that book.
The L.A. Shakedown is at the Variety Arts Center on Saturday-Sunday, February 15-16. See Concerts for complete lineup.