They go fast. They go slow. They make you hum. They make you scream. They're fun with your friends, but they're also a pretty good time if you're all by yourself. They might even jump-start your stagnating love life (find us the morning after the show, and we'll tell you if it worked for us). And they never run out of energy.
Yep, dinosaur-days British punks the Vibrators are still buzzing away (with most of their original members) some 25 years after they first turned on. Can your Hitachi Magic Wand do that? (We think not—but if it can, contact us immediately!) This isn't a reunion tour—they did that in 1982. Instead, it's just one more tender moment with one of the longest-running and potentially most-satisfying punk bands around.
You can't fuck with the Vibrators. They had a reputation for doing it hard and fast back when they first started, remembers guitarist/ singer Ian "Knox" Carnochan—of course, "hard" and "fast" meant something a bit different back in 1976, when a limp biscuit was something you'd encounter only at a bad afternoon tea. Still, Carnochan and mates Pat Collier (no longer in the band), John Ellis (ditto) and Eddie (still in the band, despite—or perhaps because of—his lack of a last name) weren't the kind of guys you'd take to afternoon tea. They were a bunch of disheveled musician types trying to reconcile Iggy Pop with Johnny B. Goode when punk knocked them into getting some decent haircuts. Suddenly seized with purpose, they played their first show with the Stranglers and not long afterward opened for the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club punk festival, cranking out a bunch of R&B standards behind British-music gadfly Chris Spedding. People threw beer glasses, and it only got better from there—sort of.
"I don't think time's been kind to them," the Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley once said. "They're not remembered as one of the great punk bands."
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Worse, one Finnish punk superfan darkly notes that "some people" pegged the band as bandwagon-jumpers, even all the way back in 1976 (not to mention that "as some photos show," they could have been mistaken for hippies). And even though they were one of the first punk bands to slap a few songs out on wax (releasing their debut single in 1976), they don't always seem to rate their proper place in the history books. This may be because some people are stupid.
Maybe they did have unbecomingly voluminous hair in a safety-pin era. And maybe they did sneak a snippet of a Jimi Hendrix song onto their first and most beloved LP, Pure Mania. But that's where the hippie stops. From Carnochan's opening snarl "I want a new world!", Mania is a sleeper classic and a vital slice of first-wave British punk. It was just reissued on Epic; support your local indie record store! "Baby Baby" is the song that made their name (or maybe "Automatic Lover," off their next LP, V2), but cuts such as "You Broke My Heart" and "Yeah Yeah Yeah" are reflections as much of contemporaries like the Buzzcocks and the Jam as they are the snot-nosed descendants of unstodgy Brit predecessors like the Stones and the Kinks. Knoxie's pop sensibility wasn't as sharply sophisticated as ol' Pete Shelley's, but when he croons, you swoon. And did the people dig it? Yes, they did, and the Vibrators penetrated the charts repeatedly before their brief breakup in 1982.
And then they got back together, having learned their lessons after a brief dip in the icy and inhospitable waters of their respective solo careers. And they never stopped again—not for 25 years (even if Collier and Ellis eventually left, to be replaced by a succession of bright young lads). In human years, that's a helluva career; in punk years, it's all the time there ever was. To put it in perspective, 25 is just shy of the average age of the members of Green Day and just above the average I.Q. of Blink-182. Even more amazing is they're still good—despite creeping up on pension eligibility. These old limeys can still tear out a set just like the old days (or so we're told, having spent the better part of 1977 clinging to a uterine lining somewhere). So maybe you can't get it up after 25 years—don't worry. With the Vibrators handy, you won't need to.
The Vibrators perform with the Co-dependents, Haight Club and the Thingz at Club Mesa, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-8448; www.clubmesa.com. Fri., 9 p.m. $12. 21+.