Jim Peters, Rick Shaffer, Bruce Cohen, Tommy Geddes

The Reds®
        at THE RITZ
              New York City
 

Some bands have all the luck.  And some bands have none.  The Reds, a punky metal foursome from Philadelphia with the patience of saints and the sound of a construction crew in Hell, have little more than others, but still far less than most.  After two moderately successful independent singles, they said "I do" to A&M in 1979, leading the company's first rush of new wave  signings after the debut upset victories of the Police and Joe Jackson.  But A&M's promotion of The Reds a nine song, molten green-vinyl slab of atomic guitar fuzz and primal bawling that suggested Cheap Trick in analysis, or Joy Division in a barroom brawl - was less than zero.  The Reds are now into their third manager in five years, can barely get arrested in their hometown (where snotty upstarts are already dismissing them as old wave) and can only get their records released by the small but hardy Stony Plain label in Edmonton, Canada.

But their misfortune has only made the Reds meaner.  Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Rick Shaffer's ultra-distortion chords and raw fingernails-down-the-blackboard yell, the band recently beat a sparse, lethargic Tuesday night crowd at New York's Ritz senseless with a menacing confidence and ferocious passion barely contained by the grooves of their last two albums, Stronger Silence and Fatal Slide.  Bruce Cohen pushed his keyboards into overdrive, the serrated Suicide-like edge of his synth drawing blood from songs as hard as the three-minute bullet “Gone Too Far” and mutant Gothic shuffle “Slippin’ So Tight.”  In the backfield, drummer Tommy Geddes and bassist Jim Peters (who bears a distinct resemblance in looks and the smart muscular clip of his playing to Jefferson/Tuna/SVT thumper Jack Casady) hammer down like an anvil rhythm chorus, anchoring to ground zero rock n' roll Shaffer's flights of rage.

What probably flusters A&R departments is that The Reds stand proud and uncompromising at a noisy disorienting intersection of big arena heavy metal and faster-louder hard-core punk.  Like a tightly wired Raw Power Stooges, with Rick Shaffer substituting pointed anger and shattered-mirror screams for overblown Iggy excess, they combine fat power chords and dentist drill riffs – real AC/DC stuff – with brute breathless beat attacks, while Bruce Cohen deftly triggers sound-effects punctuation and paints dark keyboard brushstrokes with the wily atmospheric approach of Roxy-era Eno.  And in Shaffer, The Reds have a writer who knows how to color his white noise with melody and rhythmic tone.  Of the two new songs in the band’s Ritz set, “All So Wrong” opened with a migraine tribal rumble and the guitar and keyboards in a police siren duet before breaking into a frantic Ramones-ish dash.  Cohen’s organ rippling under Shaffer’s pained vocal.  “Terror In My Heart” was harsh agro-funk, a slice of heavy metal New Order with a jungle drum boogie distantly related to Peter Gabriel’s current ethnic-bop experiments.

"Okay, it's all rockers from here on out," cracked Shaffer about two-thirds of the way through the show.    And he wasn't kidding.  "You Don't Know" from Fatal Slide, "Do You Play The Game" from the criminally under recognized Stronger Silence and finally "Victims" and "Self Reduction" from that A&M debut -  all whiplash rockers, heavy enough for the hardiest headbanger, yet powered by a post-punk urgency and  lyrical frankness that reaches peak intensity in the manic crescendo of "Self Reduction," with Shaffer's voice exploding in metallic shards of horror against a hypnotic synth triplet as his guitar goes into freak-out gear.

The Reds are not America's only underground warriors in distress, but for my money, they are among the best.  The Reds deserve your green; you need the experience.  A fair trade, I'd say.

∎ David Fricke  MUSICIAN MAGAZINE