By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — While the idea of a “supergroup” may have smacked of the very rock traditions that they were rebelling against, there’s no question that LA punk legends the Flesh Eaters were an all-star ensemble by the time singer and principle songwriter Chris Desjardins recorded the seminal 1981 album A Minute To Pray, a Second to Die.
Already a well-known poet and music writer for fanzine Slash on the Los Angeles scene, Desjardins or Chris D as he was better known decided to pursue music himself in 1977. Initially working with members of established Arcadia band the Flyboys, the Flesh Eaters recorded three of Chris D’s dark, jagged songs for their eponymous 7-inch EP release in 1978.
By the time Desjardins released the band’s debut full-length album No Questions in 1980, he was drawing on a wider pool of Los Angeles players including members of X, the Plugz and Wall of Voodoo to create his jittery blasts of horror-film inspired punk. The music would take a quantum leap forward in terms of sophistication and quality for the Flesh Eaters’ next effort the following year.
Solidifying the band’s line-up, Desjardin put together a high-octane ensemble that featured X’s rhythm section of John Doe (bass) and DJ Bonebrake (playing marimba and assorted percussion) alongside members of the Blasters Dave Alvin (guitar), Bill Bateman (drums) and Steve Berlin (saxophone, who would later join Los Lobos). The talented group gave Desjardin his best musical support yet, putting together a pastiche of punk, noirish jazz dissonance and swampy rockabilly as backdrop to the singer’s black-hearted tales of desperation.
Chris D would move on to put together a permanent line-up of the group around guitarist Don Kirk that recorded two more albums before the band fell apart in 1983. Desjardin formed a new band, the Divine Horsemen, and would pursue a more roots-oriented direction that — along with X — prefigured the alt-country sound that would emerge during the ’90s. The singer would return to recording and touring under the Flesh Eaters moniker in 1990, but the classic A Minute To Pray, A Second to Die version of the group would not reunite until a handful of special 25th anniversary performances in 2006.
While Desjardin found other creative outlets in his writing (he has penned several books on Japanese yakuza films in addition to collections of poetry and novels) and directing his first film — the 2004 heroin horror flick I Pass For Human — the reissue of the classic album on San Francisco-based imprint Superior Viaduct would spur another round of live dates on the West Coast in early 2015 for the all-star group.
Chris D and company returned to the Bay Area almost exactly a year ago as part of the group’s first West Coast tour in three years. This time around, the group marks the release of the band’s first new recording with the classic line-up in nearly four decades. The brand new effort — I Used To Be Pretty on Yep Roc Records — features the Flesh Eaters performing new versions of six different songs Desjardin tracked with other line-ups drawn from the period prior to A Minute To Pray, A Second Die and more recent output.
The collection is filled out with three covers of songs by garage-punk icons the Sonics (“Cinderella”), British blues rockers Fleetwood Mac (the oft-covered “Green Manalishi”) and LA punk contemporaries the Gun Club (Desjardin actually produced the album “She’s Like Heroin to Me” is taken from) plus two new tracks. For this Sunday night show at the Independent in San Francisco, the group will be joined by local punk great and pioneering frontwoman for SF band the Avengers Penelope Houston.
The Flesh Eaters with Penelope Houston
Sunday, January 20, 7:30 p.m. $29.50-$30