By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — With a partnership dating back over three decades, guitarist/vocalist Ralph Spight and bassist Larry Boothroyd have been making a uniquely hectic jazz-punk noise as the core of Victims Family since forming the band back in 1984 when they were just a couple of scrawny Santa Rosa teenagers.
Bringing together the lyrical venom of the Dead Kennedys and the eclectic punk virtuosity of The Minutemen and NoMeansNo, Victims Family created a ferocious stew of hardcore, jazz, metal, funk and math rock with original drummer Devon VrMeer. Embracing the DIY punk ethos of the time, the young trio booked its first national tour in 1985, honing its chops while sharing the stage with such bands as NOFX, Tales of Terror, the aforementioned DKs and Social Unrest.
The band issued its debut album Voltage and Violets on Mordam Records the following year, unleashing Spight’s vitriolic social commentary on salvos like “Homophobia” and “God, Jerry, & The P.M.R.C.” in addition to writing likely the only instrumental tribute to jazz guitarist George Benson ever performed by a punk band. Victims’ follow-up effort Things I Hate To Admit further refined the group’s sound with more ear-pleasing, barbed wire hooks on such future fan favorites as “World War IX” and “Corona Belly.”
VrMeer’s departure to start a family led to his short-term replacement by Eric Strand before roadie Tim Solyan stepped in and completed what many consider to be the band’s classic line-up. Victims Family crafted what still stands as one of the outstanding punk albums of the decade with 1990’s White Bread Blues while furthering their reputation as a blistering live act with multiple U.S. and European tours, sharing the stage with the likes of Nirvana and Primus while having future stars Mr. Bungle and Green Day serve as opening acts.
The line-up released a second album, The Germ, in 1992. It was the band’s first effort for Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles imprint, but the grind of the road eventually led to a two-year hiatus. A reunion would produce another solid studio effort (Headache Remedy) and a live album that captured Victims’ volatile onstage chemistry before Spight and Boothroyd moved on to band projects Saturn’s Flea Collar (with the bassist switching to drums) and Hellworms (another trio that featured Bluchunks/Walrus drummer Joaquin Spengemann).
Victims Family put out one more album with yet another drummer — Apocalicious in 2001 featuring My Name drummer David Gleza behind the kit — before the principles moved on to explore other creative outlets. Spight would front his own band The Freak Accident in addition to anchoring Biafra’s lauded new band The Guantanamo School of Medicine on guitar, while Boothroyd would tour and record extensively with celebrated experimental outfit Triclops!, though he eventually would be brought in to play bass with Biafra’s band.
Still, periodic Victims Family reunions bringing Solyan back into the fold often find fans traveling long distances to catch another brutal live set. While word of the band mulling the possibility of its first new album in over a decade has yet to materialize after they released the “Have a Nice Day” 7-inch single in 2012, followers are still sure to gather in numbers when the line-up plays a run of three shows in the greater Bay Area with special guests, Denver-based punk band Joy Subtraction.
Things get started with the two bands playing sets at the SF Eagle on Thursday night with opener High Anxiety. On Saturday, VF headlines venerable Sacramento punk-rock dive the Blue Lamp with local experimental-punk openers FRACK! while on Sunday, the group will top the bill at its longtime home base the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma for a North Bay fire relief benefit that will also include San Francisco group Great Apes and Sonoma punks Roadside Bombs. SF punk great Jello Biafra will also reportedly be making an appearance. The benefit show will raise funds for the Redwood Credit Union Fire Relief Fund, the Redwood Empire Food Bank and Roadside Bombs guitarist Jeremy Catrambone after he and his family lost their home (the band also lost its practice space and a number of instruments) during the Nuns Fire.
Victims Family with Joy Subtraction
Thursday, Dec. 7, 9 p.m. $12
Saturday, Dec. 9, 8 p.m. $10-$12
The Blue Lamp Sacramento
Sunday, Dec. 10, 7 p.m. $12
Phoenix Theater in Petaluma