The Dead Boys: Punk Rock Legends Reunite...TWICE!

Dead Boys
DNA Lounge, San Francisco

November 12, 2017

Setlist: Sonic Reducer, All This and More, What Love Is, Not Anymore, Ain’t Nothing To Do, Calling To You, I Need Lunch, High Tension Wire, Down in Flames. Encore: Caught With the Meat In Your Mouth, Ain’t It Fun, Son of Sam. 45 minutes.

L.A.M.F. (tribute to The Heartbreakers L.A.M.F. record)
Great American Music Hall

December 4, 2017

By Dan Wall

Setlist: Pipeline, Born to Lose, Baby Talk, All By Myself, I Wanna Be Loved, It’s Not Enough, Chinese Rocks, Get Off the Phone, Pirate Love, One Track Mind, I Love You, Goin’ Steady, Let’s Go, Can’t Keep My Eyes On You, Do You Love Me. Encore: You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory, So Alone, Stepping Stone, Too Much Junkie Business. 90 minutes.

Before we go directly to the hologram tours (like the one that is going out featuring Ronnie James Dio), there seems to be enough actual living musicians willing to put together a project that is still a fine representation of the original band.

It’s happened twice in three weeks in San Francisco, with Dead Boys (featuring originals Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz) and an all-star tribute to Johnny Thunders legendary first album with The Heartbreakers, “L.A.M.F.,” both visiting the City for two unbelievable, “I-didn’t-think-this-could-ever-happen” shows.

I have seen a lot of bands reform over the past 20 years, but the one band I thought I would never see was Dead Boys, the Cleveland- based rockers who created quite a stir at home and in New York City during punk’s heyday with its legendary live act and barreling hard rock/punk sound.

The big question was-how could anyone play the role of punk rock legend Stiv Bators, a man that could be vile, droll, wonderful, nasty, ugly, cocky, drunk and more fun than a barrel of monkeys, sometimes during the same song?

It appeared for the longest time that it would never happen. Then guitarist Chrome wrote a book, people read the thing, and interest in Dead Boys started to pick up all over again. Not the kind of interest that leads to arena-sized tours mind you, but enough that the quintet could reunite and play smaller clubs in the punk rock capitols of the world, New York and San Francisco (with shows in New Jersey and Los Angeles thrown in for good measure).

The band re-formed last year and re-recorded the group’s legendary first record “Young, Loud and Snotty” (now retitled “Still Snotty: Young, Loud and Snotty at 40”). Anyone who’s ever heard the record knows it’s a punk rock classic, recorded in 1977, one of punk’s greatest years. That same year, the Sex Pistols released “Never Mind the Bollocks;” The Damned produced “Damned, Damned, Damned”; the Ramones second album “Leave Home” was recorded; and the Heartbreakers classic “L.A.M.F.” was released.

So, it’s a pretty easy setlist to write, featuring that first record and three songs from the band’s less-celebrated second album “We Have Come For Your Children” with the amps turned up to eleven and little concern for fancy clothes or rock star trappings. Onstage at the DNA Lounge, the band stumbles and rumbles out with my favorite punk song of all time, “Sonic Reducer,” and proceeded to play 12 songs in just over 45 minutes. There were no drum solos, guitar solos or even stage banter; the band just ripped your head off with a very loud, very fast set and then hit the bar.

No, this isn’t the original Dead Boys, but along with Chrome and Blitz are sleaze/punk merchants Jason Kottwitz (guitar), Ricky Rat (bass) and vocalist Jake Hout, a guy that doesn’t look or sound much like Bators, but has a youthful energy that helps him pull the whole thing off.

Just three weeks later, the Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers tribute hit the Great American Music Hall, a fine SF institution and a great place to see a show like this. When it was first announced, I thought that this place would be too small for the band-imagine a supergroup featuring Mike Ness (Social Distortion) on guitar, Glen Matlock (The Sex Pistols) on bass, Clem Burke (Blondie) on drums and original Heartbreaker Walter Lure on guitar/vocals, in an 800-seat club. Unreal, right?

It was not the biggest crowd in punk history, but the place was still packed on a Monday night to see another once-in-a-lifetime set from a group of musicians who were influenced by Thunders (with his work in this band and The New York Dolls), and a man that recorded and toured alongside him.

Everyone held their own during the 90-minute set, but drummer Burke must be singled out as being a true force of nature. If you’ve ever seen him play live, you know that he is a powerful whirling dervish who plays loud, fast and with a style that really defies description. Blondie is still lucky to have him, and he helped propel stand-out performances from this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame line-up that joined him for this tour. Jesse Malin, the former D Generation front man who opened the show, also joined in and helped on vocals more than once.

Just like Dead Boys, these guys didn’t have to spend too much time writing a setlist. Just start with a Thunders live staple, “Pipeline,” and head right to side one of the “L.A.M.F.” record (“Like A Mother Fucker” for the uneducated.) A few other classics and a few covers ended the set; highlights included a great “Born to Lose;” “Baby Talk” with Burke on fire; “All by Myself” and “I Wanna Be Loved,” both punk classics; and of course, “Chinese Rocks,” a powerful rock and roll classic that has been covered many times; this version was on par with any that have been done before it.

I had a great time hanging out with my good buddy Billy Rowe (from Jetboy-look for a new Jetboy record this year), and Skid Row drummer Rob Hammersmith, in town for the show. These are truly two of the great guys in rock today-please support their bands when they are in your town. And if these two shows proved anything, it’s that live rock and roll is still out there, clawing its way into you hearts and souls like it always did. You just have to look a little harder for it these days.