By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Photo by James BunoanArmitage Shanks
51 Buckingham, Pomona
Friday, Oct. 22
There may only have been five sheepish kids present at the Armitage Shanks' first ever show in America, but if they all went home to start bands as single-mindedly dedicated to budget garage punk as their undoubtedly newfound heroes, the world will be better off for it.
Singer Dick Scum, bassist Dave Dirtbox, drummer Vic Flange, and the mysterious Rod Vomit (absent tonight due to reasons incomprehensible) represent merely the latest lineup of a band which has been slogging away for nearly 15 years now at this sound: '70s punk rock pushed through the ears of a lo-fi garage rock purist, much like what Billy Childish—the artist, poet, musician and ringleader of the UK's Medway rock scene—has been doing in relative obscurity for nearly twice that time.
But tonight's show proved beyond a reasonable doubt to the American audience that the Shanks are more than just a collection of Childish's friends and fans, more than a temporary refuge for Toe Rag Studio mastermind (and White Stripes producer) Liam Watson, and more than simply a stopover band for Daggerman Wolf Howard between stints in the James Taylor Quartet and Thee Buff Medways.
Until tonight, the States only knew the Shanks from a truly monstrous discography, and blurry photos on the Internet, so we couldn't explain why they showed up at 51 Buck—after flying straight in from London—dressed like fashion victims from ska's seventh wave. Nonetheless, they won over a dedicated audience with songs closely approximating Childish's angriest punk moments (say, from Thee Headcoats' Conundrum and In Tweed We Trust LPs) and deadpan between-song banter ("Izzat the TELLY?"), like Laurel and Hardy as post-apocalyptic taxi drivers, complete with skinny checkered ties and poorly tuned guitars. (Scum—Hardy to Dirtbox's Laurel—lent credence to this characterization after the show, explaining that his main reason for this trip to Southern California was to visit Stan Laurel's grave.)
Ostensibly touring in support of their new record on Damaged Goods, Urinal Heap ("Like Uriah Heep, y'know!" says Dirtbox later, as he aggressively pushes merch to a surprised crowd hanging well outside the club), the band played from their entire catalog, including a scorching rendition of the Clash's "1977" and a version of Ye Ascoyne D'Ascoynes' menacing "Just The Biggest Thing," resurrected from an obscure Hangman Records single. They put a trick bluesy start to the riot-ready "Ambulance" from 1995's Shanks' Pony, sped it up to ignite a brief flash of pogo action from the crowd, then wearily but gamely roared toward such other originals as "Bernard Manning" and "Jack Regan."
Despite slyly introducing as their own the terrific "Kray Twins," first done in 1977 by Childish's Pop Rivets, Dirtbox later claimed that they "didn't steal everything from Billy Childish, though."
But you know, there wouldn't have been anything wrong with that if they had.