Lovers of genre-defining 1980s and 1990s underground rock rejoice: Los Angeles’s Claw Hammer will be playing its first concert in nearly 12 years at The Echo this Friday. Joined by Australia’s notorious Cosmic Psychos, this unlikely pairing could be the best club concert of 2013.
The early 1990s were an auspicious time for underground rock. Encouraged by the success of “un-signable” bands like the Butthole Surfers, the Melvins and others who scored major label record deals in Nirvana’s wake, a plethora of eclectic, odd, and thoroughly original bands surfaced in clubs across Los Angeles. If Chicago’s contribution to this sense of musical freedom was the Jesus Lizard and New York’s was the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, then Los Angeles’ was Claw Hammer.
Founded by singer/guitarists Jon Wahl and Chris Bagarozzi in 1986, the band’s avant-garde blues were equal parts hard rock, Captain Beefheart sensibility and southern boogie performed with the freneticism of free jazz and the energy of punk. Claw Hammer’s dueling lead guitars, Wahl’s unique voice and drummer Bob Lee’s pounding tom-tom rhythms eschewed the conventions of the band’s punk roots in a very satisfying and original way. For the uninitiated, Claw Hammer’s live and studio performances delivered the white-knuckled thrills of a vintage roller coaster ride. The band’s discography includes six full-length albums released between 1990 and 1997: the excellent eponymous debut Claw Hammer; Q:Are We Not Men, A: We Are Not Devo– a complete cover of Devo’s debut album; the boogie drenched Ramwhale; Pablum– perhaps Epitaph Recordings’ most interesting release; and Thank the Holder Uppers and Hold Your Tongue (And Say Apple), which marked their jump to the majors. An artists’ band, Claw Hammer won the respect of Seattle grunge pioneers Mudhoney and indie luminaries Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, securing opening slots for them in Los Angeles and other venues nationwide. Claw Hammer also served as the support band for Wayne Kramer for three songs on the legendary MC5 axe man’s 1995 debut solo release The Hard Stuff.
While the conventional wisdom in music these days is that bands never break up, they just go on long hiatus. Claw Hammer’s 9/13 performance at The Echo is an unexpected event… even in the heart of the most die-hard fan. Excluding a one-off 2002 performance with original bassist Rob Walther, Friday’s line-up recalls the band’s last with founders Jon Wahl and Chris Bagarozzi on guitars, Bob Lee, who joined the band in 1990, on drums, and Pat Hoed (Nip Drivers/Down By Law/Black Widows/Golden Rulers) on bass. A previously unavailable compilation of live recordings Claw Hammer’s Discount Hardware: Live 1990-1997 will be available for purchase at the show. Capturing performances in no particular order from Memphis, Dallas, Columbus, and the studios of KPFK, KSPC and MTV, Discount Hardware demonstrates the totality of the band’s inspired work. Special nuggets include a cover of the Beatles’ Everybody’s Got Something to Hide and Bagarozzi singing Drop 2.
The Cosmic Psychos formed in 1985 in Melbourne, Australia. Equal parts Stooges’ riffs, Ramones’ tempos and wah-wah guitar, these farm hands delivered punk intensity with unapologetic, sophomoric themes. Their fuzzy guitars were highly influential on an array of Seattle bands including the Mudhoney and the Melvins. The Cosmic Psychos are on a short US tour in support of the documentary film about them Blokes You Can Trust.
Tickets for this show are available at http://www.theecho.com/event/321819-cosmic-psychos-los-angeles/. The Echo is located at 1822 W Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026