Velvet Stems and Balancing


Someday the pop universe would know both Chrissie Hynde and Devo as spawn of Akron, Ohio, but when the From Akron album appeared in spring ’77, neither future Tiretown titan was on board. Ms. Hynde was still plying the rock-critic trade in London, while Devo were inmates at the Rick Wakeman Recap Clinic, having prog-rock road hazards extracted from their vinyl treads. So it fell to the Bizarros and Rubber City Rebels to fling their side-each LP up against the walls.

From Akron is an archetypal DIY-in-’77 disc, issued on the Clone label founded by the Bizarros’ Nick Nicholis, packaged in b&w with handwritten credits and terminally candid band photos, and jammed with r’n’r that still sounds stunningly modern, 27 years later. The Bizarros had been drizzled on by that huge Lou Reed-shaped dark cloud hovering over the whole NE quadrant of Ohio through most of the ’70s, and came up with a guitar-heavy drone full of jagged changes and Nicholis’s phlegm-noir talksung vocals, almost as though Reed himself had been able to keep the Velvets together (and Bowie out of his dressing room) beyond Loaded. The slightly less cosmo Rebels had roots in both the Dictators and early Ramones, but with a distinctly Buckeye twist that would come to full flower (of snot) in Cleveland’s Dead Boys a bit later. Both bands wound up releasing a self-titled major-label debut: the Bizarros’ on Mercury in 1979 (still one of the bestguitar-workout sets ever—thanks, Parkins bros) and the Rebels’ on Capitol in 1980. Somehow neither bracing disc excited Amerika at large, despite Devo’s demented ward Booji Boy’s election to high national office.

After an eon wandering in the tire-kicking wilderness, both bands are now back with new albums. In each case, traditional sound (and most principal players) are intact. The Rebels’ frontpunk Rod (originally “Bent,” later “Firestone,” and he’s from Akron, so do the pro-rated tread-wear math) maintains his sarcastic tongue, sass backed up with frenzied riffs—as in “(I Wanna) Pierce My Brain,” now adopted by skateboard star Tony Hawk as a kind of anthem. The Rebels’ “Blowout” (about Firestones that do, at 108 mph) could well be Rod’s oedipal manifesto à la Jim Morrison’s “The End.” For the Bizarros, life is still a guitar-churned existential stew that nourishes mind and nerves, with moody lyric plots pulsing like snatches from obsessive I-haven’t-started-my-term-paper-yet! nightmares. Noteworthy this time are tunes celebrating fellow angst-pantsers Charles Bukowski and Nico.

So ingrate Amerika has yet another chance to get Akronated with these cool bands—and if it doesn’t happen this time, Nick Nicholis still has his reputed day gig as a stockbroker. Even Lou worked in his dad’s accounting office for a time.