The Sex Pistols, the Damned, the Ramones, the Clash, the Dils, the Nuns, the Dead Boys, the Avengers...
New York gang names, you ask. Mascots for the international roller derby league? No, sports fans, these are the names of some of the most dreaded and vile groups of people known to man — punk rock bands.
What started as a joke in England has evolved into one of the biggest farces in music history. Masquerading as musicians with a cause, punk rock groups have changed the face of rock music drastically in the last two years.
The difference between rock and punk is evident by comparing music and concert crowds. Punk music is actually a take-off on good rock 'n' roll, with blasting guitars, pounding rythm sections and lyrics about hate, war and misguided love. Perhaps it is the fans at concerts who make the biggest difference between the two styles. The swagger and sophistication of rock 'n' roll has not rubbed off on punks. One of the joys of viewing a rock concert is watching the crowd react to a good band and cheer them back for an encore at the end of a set. Loud booing and littered stages are just some of the rewards bestowed on punk groups. The Bay Area got its turn to react to the punk scene during the second week of February, when to of England's biggest blood and guts outfits, the Clash and Elvis Costello, made their way to Berkeley Community Theatre.
The Clash show was one of the biggest media events to happen this year for area music fans, and those expecting a special show, they went away disappointed. Most of the crowd jammed into the theatre never really felt the energy the band was trying to transmit. The main problem with the Clash, and a lot of other punk acts, is their lack of song writing ability and musicianship. Playing a set of 18 songs with the same feel, beat and sound, the Clash failed to receive or warrant the response they wanted to in the Bay Area.
Songwriting may be one problem, but they could be competent musicians given the chance. The drummer played the same beat on virtually every song, and the three frontmen hopped about the stage keeping in tune to just about everything that was going on, except the music. Costello, however, is on a completely different end of the spectrum. Performing under the term "new wave," Costello and his backup band, the Attractions came into Berkeley with two sold-out houses and left two disillusioned crowds. The first mistake Elvis made was forgetting how long a headlining act is supposed to play. Most headlining sets run anywhere from 75-100 minutes long. Reports indicate that Costello performed a 45-minute, no encore set on Friday evening and followed Saturday with four extra songs and an 15 minutes additional.
Set time wasn't his only problem, Costello also overlooked material to be included in his set. Performing mostly unreleased songs and a great deal of his new Armed Forces lp, Elvis and band left out such classics as "Radio, Radio," "Red Shoes," and "Allison." With just a little bit of time put into preparation and a touch of consideration for the people who forked out seven bucks for the concerts, Costello could have been a success. But with performing standards such as these, commonplace for punks, not many of these bands are going to graduate into the ranks of superstardom. When these groups come up with the formula of success that other bands shunned into the New Wave scene such as Tom Petty, Cheap Trick and The Cars have, then punk rock will become of some use to music fans and not a means of using up old razor blades and safety pins. After reading this article, you might now know why Aerosmith sells out 80,000 seat stadiums and the Ramones are still playing for 700.