Various Artists

Live at the Vortex

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Compilations have been a time-honored way to introduce new bands since punk's beginnings, if not a useful tool for separating nearly-greats and also-rans. The hard part is figuring which ones actually count, or seem irrelevant; for better or worse, this recording is a fair snapshot of what happened at one of London's short-lived punk landmarks. While punks derided the importance of musical execution, that quality also weeded out bands with nothing to say, or no clue about how to say it. Thus, Art Attacks' sensational song titles can't conceal near-comical levels of ineptitude, while the Suspects and Mean Street play in suitably blurry fashion, but neither have distinctive identities. As these bands show, the do-it-yourself ideal is more appealing than the reality. Listeners get better news from the Wasps' story-so-far rave-up, "Can't Wait 'Til 78," Neo's swipe at inner-city anonymity, "Small Lives," Bernie Torme's "Streetfighter," and the Maniacs' "You Don't Break My Heart" and "I Ain't Gonna Be History," which radiate more melodicism than most punk era outfits could muster. Still, there's little sense of occasion, unlike other classic documents of the era (such as Rising Free, the live EP that bookends Tom Robinson's classic debut, Power in the Darkness). The better bands show promise, but there's little hint of anyone ready to storm the world on vinyl; while the Wasps' version of "Waiting for My Man" is brisk and energetic, it's hardly revelatory when so many other bands were playing it. Approach with caution, unless you're a rabid 1977 completist.

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