James Chance & the Contortions: Live In New York (ROIR cassette); 8-Eyed Spy: Live (ROIR cassette)

LISTEN TO the cacaphonous cutting edge of no wave punk-jazz in the privacy of your very own SONY walk-man. Be-bop down the street snapping yer fingers to the plaints of Ms. Lydia Lunch and Mr. James Chance while the world passes by unawares. Or, better yet, if you’re brave enough, slap one of these cassette-only releases into yer big black box and go public. Guaranteed to clear out a midtown sidewalk at rush hour quicker’n you can say, “Hot soup!!”

Yessirree, cassette-only releases promise to be all the craze, though, so far only Malcolm McLaren’s brilliant Bow-Wow-Wow ode to home taping piracy, C-30-C-60-C-90, really made sense as a conceptual package. Otherwise, the cassette-only releases seem the industry’s pathetic gimmick to try to co-opt the blank tape market.

On the other hand, the James Chance and 8-Eyed Spy items we have before us probably had no chance of existing in any other form, what with the various legal entanglements stymieing both artists’ recording careers (coincidentally involving ZE Records). Neil Cooper, a highly likable chap who used to run a club in New York called the 80s, is the man behind the idea, which is generally a very good one. Take the hottest recent live recordings of these generally undocumented groups — past and present — and release them as limited edition cassettes.

Cooper’s choices for his first two projects are impeccable. Live in New York captures the Milwaukee-born funk-meister with his all-black back-up band which includes Ornette Coleman guitarist Bern Nix, Tomas Doncker, Colin Wade, Richard Harrison and, on two tracks, trombonist Joe Bowie. The recording quality is adequate, the performance — as always with Chance — wildly erratic. The set includes a harrowing medley — the self-penned ‘Sophisticated Cancer’ followed by a chilling reading of James Brown’s ‘King Heroin’ — that captures the slender, pompadoured alto saxophonist at his creepy-crawly best: all goose-bump trills and squawking sax, gurgling, lurching and chortling like a man gone insane. Keep a straight face listening to this on your headphones riding home from work on the LIRR. I dare you…

8-Eyed Spy Live is a bit more problematic. This raucous quintet, fronted by the notorious 20-year-old she-demon Lydia Lunch, burnt a hole right through the local N.Y. club scene for a period of about eight months in 1980. The late bassist George Scott, as well as John Cale and the instrumental Raybeats, powered this unit like a runaway locomotive, with multi-instrumentalist Pat Irwin, yeoman drummer Jim Sclavunos and guitarist Michael Paumgardhen forming a dense undertow of twisting, spiralling, demented rockabilly rhythms rent out of shape by Ms. Lunch’s caterwauling lamentations and explicit lyrics. That said, at first I thought the production on this 8-Eyed Spy tape was unforgivably amateur, but, like the band itself, with repeated listenings in different environments, the unadulterated energy of this outfit comes through the wobbly transmission. When the lovely Lydia warbles the John Fogerty classic, “You bettah run through the jungle,” believe me, you don’t walk, man. Unless you wanna get bit by a panther…

Neil Cooper’s upcoming releases include live recordings of the Dictators, Suicide, and the New York Dolls (with the late Billy Murcia on drums). They are available from Reachout International Records, Inc., 611 Broadway, Suite 214, New York, NY 10012.

© Roy TrakinMusician, October 1981

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