Thursday, February 7, 2008

What's Playing | The Symptoms - Always Heed the Symptoms: "Live" in '78

by Steve Pick

In 1978, there just weren’t any bar bands like the Symptoms. If you went out to have drinks and hear a live band, you were going to get a technically proficient and likely soulless rendition of the latest hits on rock radio – Journey, Nugent, Kansas, REO, that sort of thing. There may be an original song or two thrown in the set, but these were going to sound exactly like the covers, only without the familiarity.

Fifties and sixties rock’n’roll was considered beyond passé. All the general public knew about that stuff was learned from either the comedic stylings of Sha Na Na or the occasional mention on “Happy Days.” The Symptoms, however, loved those old records. They loved Chuck Berry, the Kingsmen, Johnny Otis, the Isley Brothers, Bobby Freeman, just to name a few. And, they taught a generation of people just barely beginning to understand that the New Wave of the late 70s was related much more to these progenitors than to the contemporary sounds being played in every other club in town.

New Wave was the connection between the Symptoms classic old rock’n’roll and its younger audience. Because, in addition to covering songs like “Matchbox” by Carl Perkins or “Hungry” by Paul Revere and the Raiders, this five-piece band from Springfield, MO had its ears to the ground, and performed “(I’d Go the) Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric or “Less Than Zero” by Elvis Costello when these songs were brand spanking new.

The Symptoms recorded one LP, the impossibly rare “Don’t Blame the Symptoms,” before singer Jim Wunderle left, and the remaining members regrouped as the Skeletons and/or the Morells. Almeron Records has done a fine job unearthing live recordings of the latter two incarnations, but this new album captures the band on two shows at the late lamented Mississippi Nights back in October, 1978 (when that club was brand-spanking new, too.) And, the recording quality is actually slightly better than the muddy live album they released back in the day.

There was a time when it seemed New Wave was merely a corrective, a way to get rock’n’roll back on the path it had wandered from somewhere in the early 70s. The Symptoms understood that rock’n’roll was meant to be fun, to be energetic, to be danceable above all. While the Skeletons and the Morells would go on to make even better variations on these themes, the Symptoms captured the zeitgeist of 1978, when putting Nick Lowe songs next to early Bob Seger next to the Bobby Fuller Four was the height of audacity and rebellion, and seemed to point to the future.

They were a bar band as we now understand it, but as was completely unknown when they came along at the time. And they were a great bar band, with an incredible selection of songs played and sung with precision and abandon at the same time. This record should make you feel young, whether you were there at the time or not. Because the music is so vibrant, so full of life.

And, of course we have it for sale right here at our website.

Oh, and if you want to see what we have by the Morells, it's here. Or the Skeletons, here.


Bored Fan said...

How about a track list? I was at at least one of those shows, but can't recall what they played.

Steve Pick said...

The track list is way too long to type, but all the songs I referenced in the article are there, along with at least a dozen others.

J said...

1) Flying Saucers Rock and Roll
2) Paint It, Black
3) Take Me Home and Make Me Like It
4) Willie and the Hand Jive
5) People Sure Act Funny
6) Matchbox
7) Jackson
8) No Money Down
9) Nobody But Me
10) California Sun
11) (I’d Go The) Whole Wide World
12) World’s Greatest Sinner
13) When You Find Out
14) Too Much Monkey Business
15) Less Than Zero
16) Let Her Dance
17) You Must Have Me Confused
18) Penetration
19) Do You Wanna Dance
20) Mystery Dance
21) Don’t Bring Me Down
22) Get Out of Denver
23) Please Don’t Touch
24) Louie Louie
25) Hungry
26) Let’s Eat
27) Pogo-Re-Mi

It’s hard for me to listen to myself sing back then. I’ve learned a lot in 30 years, am sober, lost weight, the voice is stronger and I use it better. But this collection I can get through. (The band is always good, I’m talking about me, it’s about ME, damnit!)
Tom did a great job on it.
Springfield, MO
(Check out Unteen on myspace as well. Old school punk with great wit)

Anonymous said...

Is this the same Band?