Last night I got a lesson about St. Louis’ punk past. Let me state that I love St. Louis; I’ve lived here for more than six years and have come to think of it as my adopted home. But I know little to nothing about the music that’s come from here. Obviously I know about the blues, Chuck Berry and Ike Turner; but ask me about the “legendary” bands of a more recent vintage, and I’ll tell you about Drunks With Guns, Uncle Tupelo, Bunnygrunt. and maybe a few others. In other words, the same bands I knew before I moved here. It’s been my understanding that St. Louis never produced many post-punk regional classics. I’m happy to report that my understanding was profoundly incorrect.
It’s not really my fault, though. No one thought to document a lot of this stuff until BDR Records made its recent debut. The product of Bunnygrunt’s Matt Harnish and local DJ Jason Rerun (who was kind enough to send me some MP3s of old New Brunswick bands recently), its purpose is to excavate the forgotten St. Louis punk/pop scenes of the 1970s and ’80s. BDR has just released Raymilland‘s Recordings ’79-’81. In its honor, Raymilland reformed to play a one-off set at Off Broadway, and brought fellow STL new-wavers The Welders along for good measure.
Appropriately, the opening bands each included BDR members. The Medical Tourists was a three-piece of guitar, bass and swooshy synth overtones – Bis meets Big Black meets Lene Lovich, if you will. Bunnygrunt were their usual selves; it’s amazing to think that I first saw them 15 years ago.
Then came History Lesson Part 1. The Welders existed between 1976 and 1981-ish and apparently recorded a 7″ worth of tracks with Steve Scariano (Finn’s Motel). That’s My Daughter covered one of their songs with a raspy energy befitting Scrawl. Playing their first show in almost three decades, they were impressively tight and nonstop fun. I heard echoes of the B-52s, Blondie and (especially) Nikki & The Corvettes – that so very ’80s mix of girl-group kitsch, punk sass, power pop smarts, and lyrics about debased debutantes and so forth. Their short set included what must have been all of their originals, and a well-placed cover of the Dolls’ “Looking For A Kiss.” The place was packed and it was clearly reunion time, but I – who could barely find Missouri on a map in 1976 – was singularly impressed.
Then Raymilland came on and kicked off the art-punk section of the evening. They were present at a number of important events – opening for Magazine and Ultravox in STL, contributing tracks to the first Sub Pop cassette, almost opening for Joy Division in Chicago before fate (and a rope) intervened – but somehow fell between the cracks. Like the Aerovons – a late ’60s STL band that recorded at Abbey Road and hung out with the Beatles – they were musical Zeligs, falling between the cracks even as history was being made around them. Apparently Raymilland performed live less than a dozen times during their whole career, but three of the band members have continued to live locally and jam privately. This may be why there were no cobwebs whatsoever to their sound or appearance. To put it bluntly, they rocked the place.
Guitarist David Sundberg and bassist Greg Black maintained a Peter Hook/Bernard Sumner approach; often the bass would carry the melody while the guitar chopped out a staccato rhythm. Bob Trammel was a rock-solid post-punk drummer, holding down the regulation Krautrock and mutant-disco beats with expertise and effortlessness. Lead singer Rick Buscher looks like a New Romantic in the cover art of Recordings ’79-’81, but he’s since matured into a crazy college professor. He plays the Brian Eno/Allan Ravenstine role well, coaxing white noise from his primitive synths and occasionally ranting into the mic. You could suggest Eno’s early solo albums, The Fall, Closer-era Joy Division (of course) and 154-era Wire as influences, and you’d probably be right. However, Raymilland reminded me most of Mission of Burma; their approach sounds every bit as contemporary in 2009 as it must have in 1980, and lends itself to the present as well as the past.
The packed crowd was evenly mixed between old-time STL scenesters, current music nerds, and curiosity-seekers like myself. Funniest audience heckle of the night: “Fuck Joy Division!” I know I’d be scarred for life if I’d been booked to open for Joy Division in May 1980. I’d have even felt that way as a ticketholder.
A very special night, one of my favorites since moving to town. I can hardly wait to hear what BDR unearths next. (Coming for sure: a Welders EP and Test Patterns, a 1981 compilation album.)