Various Artists

Live at the Rat

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In 2001 the legendary building that housed Boston's infamous Rat was demolished, but this recording (catalog #528, same as the address for the establishment on Commonwealth Avenue in the heart of Boston) remains as evidence of what transpired in that "cellar full of noise." Inspired by Hilly Kristal's Live at CBGB's, this is truly the companion double LP to that disc on Atlantic, though the Boston compilation came close but failed to obtain major-label release. Recorded September 27, 28, and 29th, 1976, at the dawn of the "new wave," important and historic live recordings of some of the scenemakers live on within these grooves. Far from a definitive document -- you won't find early Jon Butcher, Charlie Farren, Fools, or Nervous Eaters here, despite the fact that the Eaters ruled at The Rat -- but you will find classic Willie Alexander after his stint with the Velvet Underground and before his MCA deal (which came when Blue Oyster Cult wife/rock critic Debbie Frost, played Alexander's single on The Rat jukebox for producer Craig Leon). Along with Willie Loco there is very early DMZ, so early that the drummer is future member of The Cars, David Robinson, as well as an early, vintage version of Richard Nolan's vital band Third Rail. This is the only place where you can find the original Susan with guitarists Tom Dickie and John Kalishes -- years before Joan Jett guitarist Ricky Bird replaced Kalishes, and decades before John Kalishes joined the late Ben Orr of the Cars in solo projects in the 1990s. The rock history lesson is important to understand the impact of not only the musicians on this album, but the influence of the nightclub which spawned Live at the Rat. Willie Alexander's manic "Pup Tune" is perhaps the most concise representation of the Rat sound -- it is grunge, it is deranged, it is a no-holds barred performance which has been re-released on best-of compilations and treasured over the years as a true musical gem. Of the 19 tracks, Willie Alexander is the only artist who gets three cuts: "At the Rat," the club's anthem; the aforementioned tribute to Ronnie Spector that is "Pup Tune"; and a live version of the original Garage Records 45 which began this new phase of his career, his ode to "Kerouac." Marc Thor, a legendary performer who never got a full album out, utilizes members of Thundertrain, DMZ, the Boize, and Third Rail for his "Circling L.A.," co-written by scenemaker Nola Rezzo. Eventual Roulette recording artist Sass do "Rocking in the USA," and, like Susan, and even Thundertrain, bring a more mainstream sound to the underground rock represented by the Boize, Third Rail, DMZ, the Infliktors, and the Real Kids. The Real Kids add "Who Needs You" and "Better Be Good" to the party, while this early Mono Mann phase has his "Ball Me Out" and "Boy From Nowhere" titles. Thundertrain crackle with "I'm So Excited" and "I Gotta Rock," Mach Bell's growl and stage antics the thing that made this otherwise suburban band an essential part of this scene. Bell would go on to front the Joe Perry Project on their final disc on MCA before Aerosmith reformed, and the resumé action of some of these players makes their performances here all the more valuable. Loco Live 1976, an album which includes tracks by Willie Alexander recorded exactly one month before Live at the Rat, is available on a Tokyo label, Captain Trip Records, and it serves as a good glimpse of what was going on before this pivotal center of new sounds brought in tons of recording gear and taped for posterity a very magical period in Boston history.

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