Revisiting an Unhinged Live Album by the Reducers
The best live bands always generate lots of field recordings. Some of those eventually turn into official albums: probably the most famous one is Black Sabbath’s Live at Last album. Another excellent field recording which finally made it to the web officially a couple of years ago is the Reducers‘ Live in Montville album. streaming at Bandcamp. While their Live: New York City 2005 album, recorded at Arlene’s, is probably the closest thing to a definitive concert recording of the band, this one is from a much earlier era and reveals what a great live act they’d already become, before they’d even made an album. The sound quality is shockingly good considering that it was recorded on a boombox. And there’s a ton of previously unreleased material.
The Reducers were to the US what the Jam were to the UK: ferociously catchy, tuneful, populist to the core and influenced by punk but not constrained by it. They had a long run, finally calling it quits in 2012 after the tragic, early death of their excellent bassist Steve Kaika. This album – recorded outdoors at a kegger in Montville, Connecticut in 1980 – validates the argument that the Reducers were already a first-class band before they were out of school. It’s amazing how tight, and how smartly constructed their songs are throughout this mix of originals and covers…even after several beer breaks..
They open with the choogling, rapidfire, Stonesy Little Punky Hood and follow with what was then an obscure Clash cut, Capitol Radio One: it’s cool to be able to hear all the lyrics for once, thanks to guitarist Hugh Birdsall.
As expected, the strongest material here is the originals. There’s Rocks, a dare to a generation of New London, Connecticut’s little punky hoods to shake up their local scene. New England rust belt decay and anomie pervades these songs: the savage Small Talk From a Big Mouth, echoed later in Big Time in a Small Town; the sarcastic No Ambition; and guitarist Peter Detmold’s blazing, minor-key Scared of Cops, a reminder of how kids of all colors had to watch their backs in those days.
The earliest-ever version of the searing, cynical Life in the Neighborhood resonates even more in an era where citizens are being encouraged to call the snitch patrol if somebody walks into a bar without a muzzle on. There are also a handful of choice rarities: BMW, which reminds that status-grubbing goes back a long way before Instagram; the Flamin’ Groovies-flavored Invisible Rain; and Chip on Your Shoulder, a defiant, tantalizingly short anthem. And Oh No It’s My First Time is as funny as you would expect.
The covers….um, the Reducers weren’t known for playing covers and are probably doing a slate of them here because they didn’t have enough original material to keep the drunks dancing for a whole afternoon. Their punked-out take of Secret Agent Man kicks ass, thanks to Kaika’s scrambling bassline and a searing Birdsall solo. Dr. Feelgood’s She’s a Windup has as much snarl as you could want.
I Think We’re Alone Now is an improvement on the original, right down to Tom Trombley’s momentary drum break. Janie Jones and Remote Control also rival the Clash’s originals for restless rage. The Groovies’ Shake Some Action, one of the few covers that the band frequently played, holds up well. Ditto Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight, predating the innumerable oil-punk versions of the early 80s.
The Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner? The Buzzcocks’ What Do I Get? The Undertones’ Girls Don’t Like It, itself a Buzzcocks ripoff? You had to be there. There’s more of this kind of stuff as the afternoon wears on, the crowd gets drunker and the band gets looser.
For one reason or another, the between-song audience chitchat wasn’t edited out. There’s a guy in the crowd with a Rhode Island accent who will. Just. Not. Shut. Up. Happily, you can’t hear him over the music.