Crime

Murder by Guitar

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Crime sometimes seem as much a perverse legend as a band, the raw San Francisco proto-punks who wore police uniforms on-stage made it a point of pride to rub nearly every other California band the wrong way, blew a chance for a record deal with Sire by telling Seymour Stein the Ramones were hippies who needed haircuts, and disappeared after releasing three singles that were embraced only by a tiny handful, leaving behind rumors of brutal live shows and decadent drug habits. While Crime's first two singles were reissued in the '90s, even those editions soon became rare collectables, and while a set of demo recordings, San Francisco's Doomed, emerged from a U.K. label in 1992 (and was re-released in 2004 with bonus tracks as San Francisco's Still Doomed), the band's original studio recordings have been all but impossible to find in non-bootleg form for decades. Superior Viaduct's 2014 anthology Murder by Guitar finally addresses this situation, collecting the A- and B-sides of all three Crime 45s as well as nine unreleased studio tracks. The first few songs here are as crude as their legend (it's said the band's loud, insouciant style so puzzled the engineer for their first recording session that he simply turned on the tape machine and left the room until the band was done), but Crime's fierce attitude and fractured, bluesy guitar work remains powerful, as Frankie Fix and Johnny Strike generate a dirty hurricane of six-string fury, while the spat-out lyrics celebrate crime, dope, contempt, and destructive behavior of all stripes. The unreleased numbers show that Crime grew tighter and more confident as performers as time went on; "Piss on Your Dog" and "TV Blue" are solid, refined menace, and "Rockin' Weird" and "If Looks Could Kill" find Crime veering into something resembling rockabilly in overdrive. Fans are still divided on the merits of Crime's final sides, which found them dipping their toes into muscular, stripped-down funk, but "Gangster Funk," which cites "James Brown, Iggy Pop, Jesus Christ, and Redd Foxx" as suitable role models at least shows they hadn't lost touch with their fractured world view. San Francisco's Still Doomed is ultimately a more satisfying listen, but Murder by Guitar is every bit as powerful (arguably more so) as an overview of this great oddball band, and it does a better job of charting their career arc, and the fidelity is a major improvement over any of the copious bootleg releases of this music; this is Crime as they were meant to be heard, and this music is still a dizzy rush full of danger and release. Catch it before it fades away again.

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