Aging punk bands usually seem obliged to prove that their anger is still blazing. Since the Rezillos were never angry in the first place, they don’t have that problem.
By Brett Milano
Sometime in late 1977, I fished my first two punk 45’s out of an import bin: The Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” and the Rezillos’ “I Can’t Stand My Baby.” The first is the acknowledged classic but truth be told, I liked the second one better: It had a great hook and a female singer who sounded totally disoriented. The lyrics were both hilarious and impossible to make sense of, as if they were sending up the conventions of rock lyrics. It was all high-concept enough to make you suspect that the band were art students (Their next single, “My Baby Does Good Sculptures,” confirmed it).
When the Scottish punk vets hit Johnny D’s on a very rare tour this week, it was to celebrate the release of ZERO, officially only the second Rezillos album ever (though they did make a few in the ’80s with a revised lineup—called, of course, the Revillos). Original singers Eugene Reynolds and Fay Fife were still aboard, along with original drummer Angel Patterson and a young-gun bassist and drummer. Notably absent this time around is Jo Callis, the band’s original guitarist and main songwriter — who’s possibly living off the royalties from “Don’t You Want Me,” the hit he cowrote after joining the Human League.
Aging punk bands usually seem obliged to prove that their anger is still blazing. Since the Rezillos were never angry in the first place, they didn’t have that problem on Tuesday. “Hi, we’re a vintage band and an ancient band. But we’re also a band that’s here right now,” Fife announced early in the show. In fact they looked great: With his ever-present shades are her shock of purple hair, Reynolds and Fife resemble a cartoon version of the Cramps’ Lux Interior and Posion Ivy. Both bands are/were drawn to B-movie and sci-fi themes, but the Rezillos’ take was always campier and less menacing. The most angst-ridden they got was on a new song, which lamented that guys from outer space are not well-endowed.
Zipping by in 55 minutes, their set included most of their ‘78 debut album, a stray later single (the terrific “Destination Venus,” apparently played live for the first time) and a bunch of new songs — which, while not quite as catchy as the old (they’re the first Rezillos originals not written by Callis) brought no shame to the family name. While the new guys kicked up the tempos, the Rezillos’ roots in ’60s pop were always evident: Call them a Scottish Ramones and you wouldn’t be far off, though the male/female voice interplay was later picked up by the B-52’s among others. Fife, who’s done some acting in recent years, even pulled off Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High,” something she probably couldn’t have done in ’78.
Closing the show was the cover tune that’s become the Rezillos’ best-known: “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight,” a song they borrowed from, of all bands, Fleetwood Mac (who recorded it in their early blues-band incarnation). The Mac version was already a greaser joke, but the Rezillos turned it into a sendup of punk’s violent side, with a few Clockwork Orange overtones (“Put the boot in!’, yells Reynolds before the guitar solo). Apparently the song gained a new lease on life when it appeared in the soundtrack to a Jackass movie — but if that’s the only place you know it from, you may be square enough that you need a Rezillos show.
Brett Milano has been covering music in Boston for decades, and is the author of Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting (St. Martins, 2001) and The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll (Commonwealth Editions, 2007). He recently returned from New Orleans where he was editor of the music and culture magazine OffBeat.