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