L.A. punks not dead—return of the living Flesh Eaters

The Flesh Eaters at the Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver

The Flesh Eaters. So legendary, it hurts.

Review—The Flesh Eaters at the Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver, Jan. 25 2018

– review by Karina Espinosa

If you do a quick search on YouTube, you can find footage of a Flesh Eaters performance from 1981. In the video, the L.A. punk band plays hard and fast, powering through songs as lead singer Chris D. paces and writhes across the stage. Last Thursday night, 37 years after the video was filmed, that same group of people played the Rickshaw. Although the frontman seemed more relaxed, it’s safe to say that the spirit of the Flesh Eaters has remained intact after all this time.

For their reunion tour, the supergroup travelled up the West Coast and made its way to Vancouver for a first-time appearance. The legendary lineup included punk poet Chris Desjardins (aka Chris D.), John Doe and DJ Bonebrake of X, Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman of The Blasters and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos.

A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die

Most of the set was dedicated to A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die, their seminal album celebrated for its genre-bending sound. Doe kicked off the evening with his creepy whistling intro on “River of Fever,” followed by “Pray Til You Sweat.” While singing, D. seemed deep in thought as he stood with hands planted on his hips and eyes downcast. His voice was noticeably more baritone and gravelly compared to recordings, but it was a difference that imbued his lyrics with greater poignancy. It worked quite well on “Cyrano de Berger’s Back,” intensifying the song that heavily features D.’s tormented singing style.

Two memorable numbers of the night were “Satan’s Stomp” and “Divine Horseman.” Berlin’s saxophone and Alvin’s guitar provided dark, interweaving textures to complement D.’s howling voice. Meanwhile, percussionists Bateman and Bonebrake maintained a hypnotic rhythm and infused the songs with jazz and tribal beats. For a change of pace, the band also played tracks off of other albums including “The Wedding Dice,” “Miss Muerte” and the classic “Pony Dress.” Throughout, each musician seemed laid-back on stage. Their music may be known for its rough-and-tumble style, but the band performed with the poise of consummate professionals equipped with decades of experience.

Farewell to The Fall

Towards the end of the set, the band took a moment to pay tribute to the late Mark E. Smith. Founder of English post-punk group The Fall, Smith had passed away only a day before. Members of the audience raised their beers to the influential songwriter as D. recalled his own memories of him. Both a respected artist and friend, D. claimed he was “one of the best lyricists ever.” It was a high compliment coming from a guy noted for his own lyric-writing ability. The Flesh Eaters then dove into “So Long,” a song that Smith “probably would have liked,” D. mused. Kind of a missed opportunity to cover a Fall song (“Psycho Mafia” maybe?). But, given The Flesh Eaters’ limited time to rehearse, the omission was understandable.

Interestingly, high-energy cover songs elicited some of the strongest reactions. It was thrilling to hear D. test the limits of his vocal range on “Cinderella” by formative Seattle garage band, The Sonics. And with the mention of Jeffrey Lee Pierce, founder of ’80s cowpunk group, The Gun Club, the crowd erupted in cheers and danced along to a rendition of “She’s Like Heroin to Me.” Both were worthy covers that were still emblematic of the band that the audience came to see in the first place.

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