Various Artists

Live From the Masque, Vol. 2: We We Can Can Do Do What What

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What CBGB was to the New York punk scene, the Masque was to the explosion of new music in Los Angeles in 1977, but while CBGB quickly became a place to see and be seen once the Ramones and Patti Smith became darlings of the rock press, the Masque was shut down by the Los Angeles police in early 1978 for a number of building code violations. A two-day benefit to help reopen the club, featuring the cream of L.A.'s punk crop, was set up at the L.A. Elks Lodge, and this disc (the second in a series of three Live From the Masque releases) is taken from four-track recordings made during those shows. The most notable performance here is by X, in what was their first public performance with drummer D.J. Bonebrake; in two years, they would be L.A.'s finest band (and maybe America's), but this recording makes clear they weren't quite there yet. Still, their set here is raw but remarkable, and if they weren't as tight as they would be by the time they made Los Angeles (and Exene Cervenka was still learning the ropes as a vocalist), they already had brilliant songs and a genius guitarist in Billy Zoom, and if Exene's voice often strays off pitch, John Doe already sounds as commanding as ever; all X lacked was experience and polish, and that would come with time. Elsewhere, the Alleycats offer up a good set of lean, wiry tunes, and if Randy Stodola's vocals haven't stood the test of time all that well, his garage/surf-accented guitar sounds mighty fine (and very prescient, too). The Zeros were often called "The Mexican Ramones," given their Hispanic heritage and their three-chord chockablock sound, but here they sound like precursors to pop-punk, with tough, hooky melodies and lyrics about girls and dating that are teenage in all the best ways. (The Zeros also feature a young Robert Lopez before he became El Vez.) And if F-Word doesn't sound remarkable in this context, their sloppy but passionate songs which veer between the political ("Government Official") and the amusingly tasteless ("Hillside Strangler") are good, messy fun. Given how little recorded material is available on most of the bands on this disc (X, of course, being the exception), Live From the Masque, Vol. 2 is a vital record of a moment whose importance has only grown in the passing years, and it's a lot more fun than your typical historical document.

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