Late 70s San Francisco punk band The Avengers played Alex’s Bar in Long Beach last month with L.A.’s own Alice Bag. It was an afternoon matinee show on a rainy day and it started late; The Alley Cats were a bit lackluster, but the second opening act Neighborhood Brats livened things up when they took the stage. They have a solid hard & fast but melodic sound, and singer Jenny Angelillo gyrated around in a crazy shirt-dress that was covered in mouths. She mentioned that she wouldn’t be up there at all if it weren’t for The Avengers’ Penelope Houston—whom I interviewed for The Beat in 2017 —which is probably true for quite a few women in punk. And many could say the same about Alice Bag.
Bag was up next and her set was strong, but it dragged a bit because she spoke a little too long in between the songs. It may have been partly the contrast between her style and that of the fast-paced Neighborhood Brats. The super uplifting “Turn It Up” sounded great however, turning her into a head-banging, hair-whipping queen, and it was good to see fist pumps for “No Means No.” The Avengers seconded the spirit of that anthem when they played their song “Uh-Oh” later! “When a girl says no, the answer is no!”
When the headliners emerged and started off with the catchy “Cheap Tragedies,” it was thrilling to hear that raw and unpolished sound I loved on the “Died For Your Sins” compilation album when I first discovered it in high school. Especially when they kicked into “Teenage Rebel” with its visceral groove and raucous guitar solo. Houston and guitarist Greg Ingraham are the two remaining original members (bassist Jimmy Wilsey died last December), but current bassist Joel Reader has been playing with them since 1999, and drummer Luis Illades since the early 2000s.
Houston’s sharp, straight voice has always sounded like another instrument in the band, rarely placed up front in the mix, which adds to her cool, disaffected attitude. Their set was consistently great, knocking out highlights like the rollicking, ever-relevant “American In Me,” the fierce and sexy “I Want In,” “I Believe In Me”—with plenty of ad libbed lyrics—and their cover of The Stones’ “Paint It Black.”
The only misstep is that they also played “White N**ger,” which is a fantastic song musically, but lyrically should’ve been re-written long ago. I thought I heard Houston say “gold digger” once, but other than that, it sounded like the lyrics were the same—criticizing someone for working 24/7, because they only care about money. Obviously, race doesn’t need to come into that story at all and that expression got the ax quite a while ago. Poking around online, I haven’t found any interviews with the band about it, which is surprising. But if there is a rationale for their continuing to play it unchanged, I am ignorant of it.