Note: This review originally was published on Mosurock’s Still Single blog and deemed too long for his monthly Still Single round-up.
I think I saw Dead At 24 once or twice. The “Rickety” organization – a loose and welcoming circle of musicians, artists, connoisseurs and well-wishers – cast a wide net around the short hair and neck-bulging aggression of Pittsburgh’s indie rock community in a time of schism, when math rock started to get tired, attitudes ran hot, and much of the country was stalled out in growing bliss. I was in college, it was like 1996 or 1997, and I was painfully unaware of the world around me, yet I threw myself into this morass of personalities with one that reflected and amplified all the bad vibes and neediness that nobody wanted with unbearable focus. No fun, my friends, no fun. No friends, either. Well, that’s not entirely true, but a lot of the decade is blacked out for me, like Watergate transcripts, due to hard lessons learned. I got through it OK, I guess. I drank a lot more back then than I ever would now because I wasn’t legally allowed to, but a fake ID (PA drivers’ licenses used to be so easy to “correct”) gained me access to the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, the Next Decade, and the 31st Street Pub (Dee’s on weekends, where the lost men go), and the 61 bus took me to the edge of Wilkinsburg, within walking distance of the Turmoil Room. Nothing else for young Doug to do but slowly go deaf to rock bands and chug Straubs and Rolling Rocks by the sixer. (Straubs came in a plastic bag with a cinch around the top, perfect for refilling with puke once you finished all the beers). “Mostly Fresh.”
When you’re drunk, uncultured, and have a superiority complex due to heavy insecurity, sometimes the answer doesn’t come to you right away. Over the years I had gotten to know some of the participants of Dead At 24 for other deeds. Steve Boyle, a very smart man and comedic genius, ended up as frontman of Swob, an edgy, swinging post/no/prog outfit whose lone LP remains unreleased. Steve’s presence augmented their sharp, alienating sounds with that of a ranting vagrant brandishing a broken bottle made of existentialist thought, throwing the band into chaos mode. Ernie Bullard, Allan Lewandowski and Sheryl Johnston orbited around Tiny Little Help, who moved to Albuquerque and came back to ring in the inaugural “Rickety” era. Their involvement with bands like the Dirty Faces, the Johnsons, and Anita Fix created a scene unto themselves, and even a jackass like me was welcome in. For years they did “Rickety Thursdays” at a local bar, and charged somewhere between $1 and $3 cover for a couple of bands and a drink special. Pittsburgh shows are somewhat dominated to this day by the actions of a very odious and petulant man, but the bars Rickety pitched to were usually fair game. Turnouts were sparse at first, and continued to be inconsistent, but they were able to continue where they could, because they had to. This whole town had a big stick up its ass sometimes, and part of Rickety’s job was to pull it out and let the chocolate river flow forth, everyone relaxing in relief. In one fell swoop, the artists’ group had given themselves a stage, a social outlet, a blank canvas and a seething mass of like minds. The musical personalities of Rickety bands reached into the soul of proto-punk and pulled out pop, blues and noise. They also inspired local musicians to play “New Wave Night” and tributes to Nick Cave, kind of like the Academy Awards of local shows.
Dead At 24, however, went further in than any had dared to go, and stayed in there until after it was time to leave. Their shows pelted crowds looking for a good time with atonal guitar bashing, synth squeals, and all the spite these folks had built up since their last set. A photo inside the eight-page booklet shows the band playing in Erie to two people; I say two, because one of them had to be holding the camera.
But their music has aged into a withering intensity that makes even more sense today, ready to poison a few more minds. Blast Off Motherfucker! is a reissue of the second of the band’s cassettes, the originals likely decaying in the hands of a couple of dozen people. It’s been seen fit for vinyl release over a decade later, and it’s aged right into the times we’re in – urgent despondence you can’t fake. Named in honor of Peter Laughner, they played like Beat Happening as the Dead C., or maybe a more lit up Supreme Dicks or Pink Reason: indie pop songs slowed down to a crawl with thudding toms, all the brightness blotted out with sluggo catharsis. It’s fucking wild, is what it is, wide open and leaving nothing to reason (any bands around today with the courage to write a song like “Sodomy. Yes!” please stand up).
If you’re trying to keep up with as many Still Single records as you can, this one should go to the top of your list. More reissues have been planned and I hope they see the light of day. There’s only 300 copies of this, they’re cheap, and they’re moving fast. It’s somewhat painful for me to listen to this and admit that, as a 20 year old, I probably didn’t get it. Kids are fucking stupid sometimes. This one is so good.