Live at Raji’s 1987 (TON)

Musty, dark, smoky, with an inescapable stench of stale beer, sweat and passion, Hollywood Boulevard rock pit Raji’s was, for mid-’80s postpunk music fans and rock & roll aspirants alike, the ultimate home away from home. Manager-booker Dobbs, doorman Bernie and beertender Autumn were the nucleus of an extended family (that also included, at various moments, the Vandals’ Steve-O, Ringling Sister Pleasant Gehman, Dirty Ed and the unforgettable Dianne) who always offered a congenial if crusty welcome. The site of memorable performances by everyone from the Mentors to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Raji’s was the throbbing, sticky core of Los Angeles’ underground rock scene, and Dobbs has finally re-emerged to release the first in a series of long-promised live discs.

Sonically, the album decidedly kicks, with a roughneck, half-stoned abandon that evokes the raw essence of underworld Los Angeles rock & roll, all captured with surprising clarity. The keynote here is an almost starry-eyed, ingenuous quality, typified by Bulldozer’s AC/DC-tinged bashing on “One More Drop” and the heavy-handed new-wave irony of the Killer Crows’ “Millionaire,” and taken further by the junior-high-level political grandstanding of the Cadillac Tramps’ “South Africa” and the arch punk rantings of the Fiends’ “This Week Sucked.”

These groups were, after all, still spiritually linked to punk’s don’t-ever-sell-out ethic. Long since bled from local bands (first by the late-’80s frenzied “We’re gonna get signed and BE HUGE” train of thought and then by “Yeah, we’ll sign you, record an album, shelve it and DROP YOU” reality of the business), that crude simplicity has, in its sheer dopey momentum, a strangely endearing quality. The best example here is the Hangmen’s “All I Wanted Was a Kiss From You,” a tender, Seeds/ Thundersesque plaint that finds the protagonist proclaiming his desire to a Scene Queen as she lies comatose-drunk on the floor: “Why did you pass out?/You know that was mean!/ Yeah! When it comes to heartaches/you are the queen . . .” Today such a scenario would be unthinkable, at least in commercial terms, but that riff-bristling, childlike naiveté was exactly what dominated local PAs. All in all, an intriguing slice of ways gone by.

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