The Plimsouls – Beach Town Confidential
Alive, the Bomp!-related indie label, has done an exemplary job in recent years re-stocking record store bins with re-issues of long-lost Nerves and Breakaways material for both longtime fans and (especially, it seems) younger listeners who’ve developed a newfound appreciation for high-energy power pop through its raggedy connection to punk. Alive’s campaign has also included new music from Paul Collins (2010’s King of Powerpop) and wish-we’d-been-there archival live recordings (The Nerves Live at the Pirate’s Cove, the Plimsouls’ Live! Beg Borrow & Steal), and now this excellent concert from Peter Case’s post-Nerves/Breakaways outfit can be added to the stack.
Captured at the Golden Bear, a storied Huntington Beach venue on the Pacific Coast Highway, this show from the summer of 1983 comes shortly before the band packed it in, but there’s no evidence of disenchantment in these heated performances. “Shaky City” (from their then-new second album, Everywhere at Once, but a staple of their live show for years prior) gets things off to a jumping start, and then the band dives straight into “Making Time” by the Creation, an odd placement of a cover song so early in the set, but then the Plimsouls liberally peppered their shows with rock, blues and soul covers. It’s a rollicking version and you have to realize that in ’83 Rushmore was only a mountain with some presidents’ heads on it and that 1966 single’s punk/garage omnipresence was nowhere near what it is today; it’s likely few in the audience at this Plimsouls gig even realized it was a cover. “Zero Hour” completes the spirited three-song opening volley.
Prior to the instrumental “Hobo,” Case mentions that they’d just recorded it a couple of weeks earlier. The studio version landed as a bonus track on the CD edition of Everywhere at Once, but presumably at the time the Plimsouls were plotting their third album, because they follow that here with the otherwise unreleased “Who’s Gonna Break the Ice?,” an immensely catchy pop-rock number that sounds like it could’ve been another hit single for the band, especially if it’d made it onto a John Hughes movie soundtrack. Surprised they didn’t at least record a version for that reunion album they made back in the late ‘90s.
You’d think they’d be pimping the hell out of Everywhere at Once, but actually, unless the concert was trimmed for this album, only a handful of songs from it are performed, including “Oldest Story in the World” and (naturally) “A Million Miles Away,” then at its post-Valley Girl hottest. Their self-titled debut gets only slightly less representation, but actually a bulk of the concert is given over to cover songs – but not anything obvious or overdone, and nothing that doesn’t fit, so the whole show just blasts by you in a fantastic flurry, like a compact celebration of rock ‘n’ roll itself, where it doesn’t matter who wrote what. It’s the unstoppable feeling of the moment that matters. “Jump Jive and Harmonize” by Thee Midnighters. “Fall on You” by Moby Grape. “You Can’t Judge a Book” by Willie Dixon. “Jumpin’ in the Night” by the Flamin’ Groovies (with Keith Streng of the Fleshtones). “The Price of Love” by the Everly Brothers, here with lead vocals by ‘70s teen idol hopefuls Andrew and David Williams. This is all amazing stuff, rendered with sweat, passion and, clearly, a belief in the pure, unfiltered power of the music.
It seems that in the current landscape of power pop retro acceptability, apparently among the younger crowd the Nerves and Breakaways and Beat are considered awesome but the Plimsouls not so much. I observed this firsthand during South by Southwest, where several hip twentysomethings mentioned either seeing or wanting to see Paul Collins play old Nerves and Breakaways songs. None of them seemed to care about Case or the Plimsouls, and now that Paul’s off the short-lived Case-Collins tour, interest in it has noticeably fallen for those who probably only first heard of Paul Collins when Gentleman Jesse backed him up for a few shows. Such thinking is hard to fathom, especially when listening to this record, which handily obliterates the ‘80s production sheen of the band’s studio albums that admittedly tidied up their sound a bit much. Maybe the Plimsouls weren’t punk enough. Maybe it’s how the band embraced soul and blues and rootsier rock ‘n’ roll that taints the Plimsouls for younger power pop fans. Maybe “A Million Miles Away” was too big a hit to be cool. Maybe they associate Peter Case solely with his latter-day singer-songwriter ventures. Or maybe they just haven’t had the right blogs tell them it’s OK to like the Plimsouls.
All I know is, if you can listen to them careen from “Million Miles” into “Jump Jive and Harmonize,” with its Bo Diddley-beat midsection and audience-powered call-and-response soul shouting, then shimmy through the Groovies nugget and their own minor hit “Now,” and not come away a believer, then you must be fuckin’ deaf, dumb and going to see the Carbonas.
Beach Town Confidential