Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Just to break up the monotony of non-SST-related artists, let's talk about an SST-related artist. Got it? I'll discuss a fellow by the name of Jack Brewer. He sang in the '80s rock & roll group by the name of Saccharine Trust. I've written about 'em before, specifically here. I'd be repeating myself if I was to state that they remain one of my all-time fave outfits of the era, but that's OK. Along w/ the usual SST cronies (Black Flag, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Slovenly, etc.), Wipers, Big Boys, Half Japanese, Swans, Flipper, Die Kreuzen, et al, I rank 'em up there as one of the best of the best in 1980s underground rock from the US of A. If you disagree, that's fine w/ me. Just don't complain when I rattle on about 'em. This internet contains a wide variety of content, I'm told, and you're obviously reading the wrong site if you think I've gone off the rails. But anyway! The 'Trust are alive and among us to this day. They took a 15-year (or so) break after they split in '86 and have been and on/off consideration ever since. When they originally called it quits, the two main members, singer Brewer and guitarist Joe Baiza, went in separate musical directions. Baiza's Universal Congress Of - as I've fucking said time and time again - made one of the great unheralded albums of its decade, their self-titled platter from 1987. A monstrous, swirling instrumental beast, it's an awesome mixture of six-string Ulmer/Sharrock guitar hysterics and Can/Miles groove. Do I need to state it again? GET IT. As for Jack, it took him a few years to find his feet, but finally in 1990 he released the great Rockin' Ethereal LP on the New Alliance label (the Watt/Boon imprint since purchased by Ginn and the SST empire).

I think I've told this story before... but what the hey, you're gonna hear it again: my older brother went to the US for a 2-month holiday in the summer of 1990/'91, trekking up the west coast and then through to Chicago. The first week or so he spent in Los Angeles. Within the first few days of arriving in the country, he found himself in attendance at a Jack Brewer show at the Anti-Club. Drunk and full of bravado, he also found himself talking to Brewer after the show, and before he knew it, he and his friend were crashing at Jack's place for a few nights. When he told me this story a week later on the phone, I was in such jealous awe that it beggars belief in the 21st century. Prior to the internet, life experience, cynicism - whatever - the world seemed a mighty big place. The life of underground musicians worshipped from afar seemed so foreign, so elevated upon a ridiculous pedestal that it almost seems incomprehensible in this day and age, but I can tell you this: when my brother came back in late January from his trip and gave me an autographed copy of Pagan Icons from Jack goddamn Brewer, it was a special day indeed. You know, you can stop reading this if you want to. But on with the story... Also in his package was a copy of Jack's recently-released opus, Rockin' Ethereal. For the both of us, it became a peculiar fave, its last track, "1989 Again", being a catch-cry which no one else on earth seemed to get. The record itself disappeared in the marketplace without a trace and hit the cut-out bins a few years later. I hope to give it a critical resurrection of sorts, if not a commercial one (I ain't that deluded).
Brewer's band featured none other than SWA's Richard Ford on guitar and backing vocals, Bobby Fitzer on bass and Ed Huerta on drums (he also played in the Lazy Cowgirls; in fact, he has an interesting web site here). The music is much more straight rock & roll than Sacc' Trust's jazzbo inflections - w/out Baiza on strings it'd be hard to replicate that sound - but the urgency makes up for the lack of musical complications. Not that this is straight-ahead "rock", and despite the presence of Ford on guitar, this is a lot better than anything SWA ever put to tape (I wouldn't be talking about it right now if it wasn't), but the rhythm section doesn't get too intricate nor fancy: it's four-to-the-floor, accenting the right moments the way a good rhythm section should. And Ford? He can play a mean riff and embellish it w/ enough fancy stuff to take it beyond mere rote rock & roll (he also produced the album). Musically, there is a lot going on here, even if that doesn't seem apparent upon first listen.
There's 11 tracks and not a turkey in the bunch. It's over in about 35 minutes, and if you're circuiting the same musical orbit I do, you'll probably chuck it back on for a second spin. There are more than a few cuts here which reach anthemic status: "Dog's Liberation", "In Your Skin", the awesome "Evil Twin", "I Needed You", a reconfigured take on The Doors' "Peace Frog" (also covered on 'Trust's Surviving You, Always and Past Lives) and, of course, "1989 Again". I recall at the time that Byron Coley, always a huge spruiker of the Sacc' Trust/Brewer cause, wasn't so hot on its blatantly rockist approach, but I think that such a dismissal fails to take into account just how great its rockist aproach is. In terms of musical immediacy, Rockin' Ethereal is the most right-on thing Brewer put to tape since Pagan Icons. 22 years later, this album remains great LA underground rock which was totally dismissed at the time - plugging SST artists ca. 1990/'91 must've been a slog when you look at what else was "hot" during that period: Sub Pop, Touch & Go, Am Rep, etc. Barring a couple of artists such as Pell Mell and Slovenly, the label had lost the plot entirely - but all that is ancient history. All which is left two decades later is whether this record is worth your time. I say it is, and then some. Brewer's crazy poet-preacherman mannerisms are in excellent form and the sympathetic band nail the delivery of the material. It's a cut-out disc which'll cost you but a penny or two, but you'll thank me later.


Viva said...

ST cover Doors on Past Lives, don't they?

Dave said...

Correct. Studio version was on Surviving You, Always, too. Fixed.

Viva said...

Who would have thinked there would be many JBB videos available some day? Here is the funny Why Did God Create Assholes: http://youtu.be/2CcmEpmZWIQ

Anonymous said...

Good call - those Jack Brewer Band records were great. So's his poetry CD that New Alliance put out (complete with Pettibon reciting Effort to Waste, if memory serves!)