In early 1981 a Los Angeles punk band called the Flesh Eaters made a record called A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die for the Slash Records imprint Ruby. The band members that recorded the album played only a handful of shows and then went their separate ways. Now, almost 25 years later, these monsters have crawled out from under a rock to perform just a few more times, concluding with an appearance at the influential All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival, in Great Britain. Minus any additional details, this might seem like nothing to get excited about, but for anyone who cares about the genesis of the West Coast punk scene, this is a bona fide event.
The Flesh Eaters began in 1977, masterminded by singer Chris Desjardins, hitherto known to the public simply as Chris D. The film school graduate and erstwhile B-movie junkie named his project after a particularly sleazy 1964 sci-fi-horror flick, foreshadowing the sordid lyrical matter to come. An embryonic 7-inch EP on the Upsetter label was self-released the following year (appearing as bonus tracks on the Atavistic reissue of their 1980 debut, No Questions Asked, also on Upsetter), featuring howling, almost cartoonishly intense vocal depictions of decay and desolation bolstered by vigorous, stripped-down, guitar-driven rock.
What ultimately set the Flesh Eaters apart from the glut of period LA punk identikit units was the macabre eloquence of D.’s words. Often channeling chilling imagery through his characters’ psychotic delusions, the results loom like some sort of cryptic, hallucinatory-schizophrenic crime-scene testimonial. Early songs such as “Dynamite Hemorrhage,” “Cry Baby Killer,” and “Jesus, Don’t Come Through the Cotton” evoke surrealistic images of murder, addiction, and religious dread with a focused, poetic articulation matched by few contemporaries.
By 1981, after cycling through a seemingly endless series of backing musicians (featuring people from Wall of Voodoo, the Plugz, the Controllers, and other influential bands), Chris D. hit upon a winning combination featuring John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake from X, Blasters Bill Bateman and Dave Alvin, plus future Los Lobos member Steve Berlin. The second Flesh Eaters album, A Minute to Pray (released by Slash and titled after a 1968 spaghetti western), revealed a perfect collision between D.’s outrageous noir–shock prose elocution and hard-nosed rock ’n’ roll that also masterfully fused modern punk angularity with elements of jazz and subtle allusions to early rock and American roots music.
One of the striking things about the album is the unexpected integration of marimba and saxophone into the mix — the former firmly punctuating and prodding the nimble rhythm section; the latter adding vivid color to the chord progressions before lashing out with succinct solos teeming with articulate dissonance. The overall feel of the music swaggers with raw emotion and force while retaining a sense of swing and nuance not necessarily commonplace in much of the so-called punk rock of the era. Chris D. is in fine form on standout tracks like “See You in the Boneyard,” in which his gurgling crypt-keeper mewling climaxes in hair-raising shrieks — a crazed undertaker drowning in a life of decrepit damnation.
Performing together live only a few times during the spring of 1981 (documented on side one of the 1988 Live LP, on Homestead Records), the various members of this punk rock “all-star” incarnation went on to various levels of mainstream success with their primary concerns. Chris D. soldiered on through the decades with his various live and recording pursuits (including intermittent, sometimes heavy metal–inclined Flesh Eaters formations) before the bright idea of momentarily reincarnating the mythological A Minute to Pray band came to pass.
While many rock ’n’ roll reunion acts tend unintentionally to err on the side of flatulent and half-baked — either missing the point or lacking any of the impetus that made their own prime work great — the musicians who make up this combo have never strayed very far from their original inspirations. After almost a quarter century away, skeptics might wonder what’s in store. But this crack ensemble comes armed with classic material, and it’s a safe bet the Flesh Eaters will once again rise from the grave and devour their fans.
Wed/5, 9 p.m.
333 11th St., SF