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Friday, March 14, 2008

DVD Review: Dead Boys - Return of the Living Dead Boys

Dead Boys- Return of the Living Dead Boys
2008 MVD Visual
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

On occasion the prospect of a band reunion can be a misnomer. At-large today, people scoff at reunions largely because they're viewed as cash-ins plied from nostalgia. Frequently a band gets back together with a missing member or two, which causes for instant indemnification of loathing from fans, and this syndrome has been far more apparent today than it ever was, particularly with the widespead interest in hard rock and heavy metal. Frankly, reunions weren't quite so commonplace in the eighties, so much that a band reunification was actually something of an event.

Throughout the eighties, punk legends the Dead Boys were randomly seen getting back together onstage, though not necessarily in the studio, which did eventually cause a stain on the already raggedy band which had been forced to undergo personnel changes in the early part of the decade when guitarist Cheetah Chrome was sidelined with a broken wrist and Johnny Blitz had seen enough to that point. Still, having all five original Dead Boys together including Johnny Zero, Jeff Magnum and out-of-control singer Stiv Bators at The Ritz in New York on Halloween Night in 1986 was as exciting a prospect as the paper the show's fliers were printed on.

First, you had the endearment of punk rock to metalheads and thrashers in the mid-eighties, who were undoubtedly slavering at the bit to get in on the action along with the trad punks and neophytes looking to see the voices behind the trash anthem "Sonic Reducer." Second, you had none other than the Dead Boys' numero uno advocate, Joey Ramone, delivering a brief intro of the band at the gig. Third, judging by the footage unearthed on Return of the Living Dead Boys Halloween Night 1986, the reunion more than justified its welcome.

Though the Dead Boys went a tad pop or at least crossover into the complaisant new wave crowd they chastised by no real intention, the real truth was that they were milking the songs from their two main albums Young, Loud and Snotty and We Have Come For Your Children throughout the eighties while the late Stiv Bators also found favor amongst the alternative clique with Lords of the New Church.

Of course, in 1986 the upswing of hardcore was changing the face of punk, so much that skins and ape drape metal castoffs were taking over the scene, and so much they're hired security at this performance by the Dead Boys. Anyone who lived metal and punk back in the day will attest that stage diving was a far riskier venture then than it is today. For one, the codes were still being established, and you could just as easily pound the floor face-first instead of upon the supportive hands of your fellow show-goers, but even more so, it held a danger element from the bouncers who shoved you offstage, sometimes to the point of handing out knuckle sandwiches as your parting gift.

Sure enough, on Night of the Living Dead Boys, there's the hardcore guy with his unhinged suspenders dangling at his ass and the cro-magnon mullethead shoving stage divers at will, frequently grabbing them by the wrists on their way up and slinging them back into the throng. Meanwhile, Stiv Bators in his strapping leathers, who looked like a cross between Marilyn Manson and an early years Rob Halford, gets into the act himself by hitting the deck onstage and carrying on crazily (at one point it appears through the glaze of this old footage that he got decked inadvertently by a fan whizzing by in his stage catapult) and eventually surrendering his body to the feeding frenzy on the floor.

In other words, chaos reigns supreme yet again at a Dead Boys show. For a band that embraced the violent undertones that punk rock of the seventies ignited, in 1986 they're somewhat slower on the trigger, but not by much. They keep the pace moving at a mostly swift pace with classic cuts like "All This and More," "I Need Lunch," "Down in Flames," "3rd Generation Nation" and of course their calling card "Sonic Reducer," played not just once, but twice in the set! At this point in the strange odyssey of the Dead Boys' cycle, Cheetah Chrome plays better than ever after his extensive layoff, while the other co-founder of the Dead Boys Johnny Blitz drums with thankful enthusiasm.

As Bators reveals to the crowd that bassist Johnny Magnum had a hand in writing a generous portion of the Dead Boys' music, the introverted Magnum keeps his back to the crowd, shying away from Bators' needling to say something into the mike. After much prodding, Magnum snorts a jokey "Fuck you!" and launches into the next song. In fact, the rest of the Dead Boys seem intent on keeping the gibber-jawing to a minimum Cheetah Chrome actually asks the crowd who wants Bators to shut up and start the next song, and then he cuts Bators off by starting "High Tension Wire."

Regardless of how punk or not the Dead Boys were viewed in 1986, one thing's for sure; the attitude was largely there and the Dead Boys were on their game, so much that the already androgynous Stiv Bators gives the crowd a shock salute on the way out by tucking his crank between his legs and pulling his pants down to reveal a femme-like bush. Hmm, you wonder if that's where Silence of the Lambs got that "I'd fuck me" stunt?

Punk rock to the extreme, the ultimate legacy of the Dead Boys...

Rating: ****

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