Sarre-Chasm – Night Of The Living Old People – Column


by Jon Sarre
illustration by Timothy Walker

Night Of The Living Old People

The other night I saw Saccharine Trust. I saw Joe Baiza twisting and shaking from side to side like some whacked out Polynesian bluesman. I saw Jack Brewer ponder a piece of broken glass during the “Blood in the Streets” break on “Peace Frog” (one of the few covers which transcends the original); I saw him hiding underneath the seats and singing about crawling below the world on “We Became Snakes.” It didn’t matter that I noticed that Brewer’s gut is as prominent as the shining madness in his eyes or that Baiza appears to be shrinking, or that the opening band featured yet another Sid Vicious impersonator and that most of the people who stuck it out after them thought it would be real fun to heckle the old guys on stage, who close to a decade after an acrimonious break-up were now playin’ the same songs in the same grimy clubs and lookin’ like fools cuz of it. They sounded great anyway.

Yeah, Saccharine Trust touring again is probably a nostalgia thing (but for what, I’m not sure). I never got to see ’em the first time around and I was glad for the chance this time. Brewer’s kinda a hero of mine. I don’t think you’ll find a better lyricist on the planet and his clipped, arrhythmic delivery is something to experience. Baiza was and still is the only spiffy guitar player I can stomach. Together, the two of `em and various rhythm sections produced two stellar examples of high-brow punk-low-brow jazz fusion,Pagan Icons and Surviving You Always (both for SST, still in print, if the label’s still in business).

Their second two albums didn’t move me like the first two, but rock crit laureate R. Meltzer was moved enough by ’em to type somethin’ along the lines of “Jim and Jimi in one band” for the liner notes to their last record, Worldbroken. Personally, I think he oversimplified things, but it made good copy I’m sure and it’s much less confusing than writing “Sonny Sharrock and a guy who sounds like a cross between John the Baptist (or Charles Manson) and the village idiot in one band.”

Oddly enough, with a sound as unique (but at the same time relatively accessible) as theirs’ the name “Saccharine Trust” rings very few bells with people. The SST connection is all most can recall about ’em. Even the fusion doodler geeks I occasionally run into don’t know the name. Fuck, it’s too late now, I guess (I don’t think there’s any new product on the way, ST didn’t play any new songs). Interested souls should save their pennies and buy the albums.

There were more oldsters from old bands out and about recently, but this time in new (well, newer) groups when Guided By Voices came through lovely Portland. Since I’m one of the few people on the planet who doesn’t go ga-ga over Bob Pollard and his pop-art stuff, I woulda skipped the show, but I instead readily shelled out the ticket price for openers Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments and Cobra Verde (who are backing Pollard on the new GBV album).

See, back when I was 14, I picked up a Homestead Records sampler called The Wailing Ultimate, mostly cuz it had stuff from Big Black, the Volcano Suns and Dinosaur (pre-Jr., pre-J. Mascis One-Man Band Guitar Hero Experience). I ended up wearing that tape out. At the time (1985), Homestead probably had the richest talent roster of any indie label ever (SST in the early 1980s is the only one that comes close, SubPop? Forget it!). You had Sonic Youth (who were not on the comp), Squirrel Bait, Breaking Circus, Live Skull, Antietam, Naked Raygun, Big Dipper, Death of Samantha and Great Plains. These are all bands which bear a ton of responsibility for warping my musical tastes to such a degree that I’ve spent years hunting down entire back catalogues of some of ’em.

Great Plains, for one, dwelt somewhere on the poppier side of the usual ear-bleed Homestead fare. Their stuff was mostly pretty singalongable indie rock with hooky riffs and new wavey keys over which singer Ron House’s whiny wail irritated college radio DJs from coast to coast.

As these things usually come to pass, they broke up, but House and guitarist Bob Petric put together Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, which, to quote Mr. House from my unreliable memory, is like “Punk if it was invented in Ohio” (okay Ron, but take Pere Ubu, the Electric Eels,Rocket From the Tombs, Peter Laughner‘s “Cinderella Backstreet” and the Dead Boys and you’d have a case that it was). Anyway, TJSA lucked out and got the coveted spot opening for GBV, which means you play a great fucking set for people like me who get there early especially to see you whilst other early arrivals mill around and get wasted.

Cobra Verde, likewise, was incredible in their role as Guided By Voices Plus One. As I’ve ranted in this space previously, they used to be one of my all-time favorite bands, Death of Samantha (drummer Dave Swanson is also an ex-Reaction, another Homestead non-star). Like I said, I’ve never been into GBV and I dunno, I don’t really understand what all the awkwardly dancin’ thick glasses sportin’ pseudo-intellectual types were gettin’ off on as they waved their English lit degrees in the air. All I can really say is that Pollard made the smartest decision of his seemingly century-long career by getting the best straight-ahead rock’n’roll band in the world (or glam, as Spin and Rolling Stone insist, it’s cuz they dress funny, right?) to record and tour with. I’ve always seen the GBV smart-guy pop stuff as kinda boring, but it woulda been a lot more fucking dull if John Petkovic and crew weren’t there to force Bob’s soulless self into goofy rock star poses (like Quadrophenia-era Who, I heard someone say on the way out).

With any luck, the Guided By Voices association will turn out well for Tom, Jeff and Cobra Verde. These bands don’t deserve the below-the-Marinas-Trench press profiles they’ve gotten and could use some forced exposure for no other reason than to stop putting out any more “If a record comes out and nobody buys it, does it make a sound?” releases. Well? Like Saccharine Trust knows too well, the clock is ticking…