By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the more celebrated post-punk bands from Australia to exert an influence on American alternative rock during the ’90s, the Scientists bring their first ever U.S. tour to the Chapel in San Francisco Sunday night.
Principle singer, songwriter and guitarist Kim Salmon was credited with starting Perth’s first proto-punk band the Cheap Nasties in the summer of 1976, but had moved on by the end of the following year. He joined the Exterminators, a group that went through several line-ups and monikers before settling on the Scientists after James Baker, the former drummer for pioneering Aussie punk the Victims, became a member in 1978.
The Scientists released their first single on DNA Records — “Frantic Romantic” backed by “Shake (Together Tonight)” — in 1979 followed by their self-titled EP the following year. Both would be hailed as landmarks of Australian punk, but the band would disintegrate in early 1981 after recording their bracing, tuneful debut album (which came out posthumously to solid reviews on Australia EMI).
While Baker and former Scientists guitarist Roddy Radalj went on to form noted band Le Hoodoo Gurus, Salmon started the abortive Louie Louie before reforming a new version of the Scientists with former bassist Boris Sujdovic and relocating to Sydney. The guitarist took the band in a new direction, embracing a swampy, psychedelic garage sound that nodded to American contemporaries the Cramps and the groundbreaking weirdness of the Stooges and Captain Beefheart (the group covered the Beefheart classic “Clear Spot” on a single).
The 1983 mini album Blood Red River for Australian indie imprint Au Go Go and steady touring established the Scientists as one of the country’s most potent underground outfits. The Scientists would tour Europe with like-minded LA post punk crew the Gun Club and issue the darker, more abrasive This Heart Doesn’t Run on Blood, This Heart Doesn’t Run on Love in 1984.
As the band spent an extended period in London, more EPs would follow along with You Get What You Deserve, the band’s first UK release on their manager’s label Karbon Records. Their stint in England would culminate in a new deal with Big Time Records and the band re-recording their past material for the new album Weird Love in 1987, but by that time the Scientists had returned to their native Australia with Salmon breaking up the band before the year’s end.
In the years that followed, the guitarist would play his old songs with new group the Surrealists (and also as Kim Salmon’s Human Jukebox) in addition to joining a version of bluesy alt-rock band the Beasts of Bourbon. Since the turn of the millennium, Salmon has reunited the band to perform occasional shows including an Australian tour with avowed fans Sonic Youth and several editions of the now defunct All Tomorrows Parties festival including their first show in the U.S. in 2010 as part of a line-up curated by film director Jim Jarmusch.
Two years ago, interest in the Scientists was rekindled when noted music archivist label Numero Group reissued the band’s complete studio recordings and a host of live material, making their influential music widely available for the first time. Salmon recently reassembled the 1986 version of the band with guitarist Tony Thewlis, bassist Sujdovic and drummer Leanne Cowie to record their first new material in over 30 years (with In the Red Records issuing a new 7-inch single).
The Scientists come to San Francisco this Sunday on their first U.S. tour that kicks off with a pair of dates in the Northwest with Mudhoney, headlining the Chapel with support sets from local noise punk CCR Headcleaner and opening act CIA, the latest experimental project featuring prolific garage-psych rocker Ty Segall alongside his wife Denée and the Cairo Gang’s leader Emmett Kelly. Punk DJ Big Nate plays music before and between bands.
Sunday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. $25