It is often the lesser known (though no less important) bands who come to define an era and genre. These are the artists responsible for shaping a scene and sound, and while their peers are canonised, they often get overlooked, and that’s where No Alternative step in. Formed in 1978 as part of the nascent hardcore punk movement, they built up a fearsome reputation as a live band, sharing stages with luminaries such a Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, and D.O.A. Capturing the band in their natural habitat, Live At The Mabuhay Gardens is a ferocious document, and one that should elevate No Alternative to punk’s elite.
By 1980, the nihilism of British punk had reached its logical conclusion; the Pistols had imploded, the Clash went stadium rock, while the rest descended into a studs-bristles-n’-ache stereotype. Across the Atlantic, something far more interesting was occurring as an army of disaffected and disenfranchised youth distilled punk into a ball of pure energy, and came out swinging, and with all guitars blazing. As part of the first wave, No Alternative were charting unexplored territory, yet this recording finds them full of confidence and forging ahead, and if you need proof then just check out opening salvo ‘Damned To Hell’. There’s an urgency here that suggests the impetuosity of youth, but also a band trying to put as much distance as they can between themselves and the past.
Live At The Mabuhay Gardens presents punk as it was originally intended, it’s devoid of any excess frills, and that makes it all the more powerful. Drenched in glorious feedback, it captures that authentic live feel as the bass thumps your chest, guitars tickle your eardrums and the drums shake the (sticky) floor beneath your feet. Tracks such as ‘Right To Die’ might be powered by a visceral, proletarian rage yet there’s a groove underpinning proceedings that ensures it swings like a billiard ball inside a sock (that’s about to collide with your head). In fact, there’s an air of danger hanging over this recording, and when vocalist/guitarist Hugh Patterson screams “Move forward. Make more trouble!” by way of introduction to ‘Fucked Up’, he really means it.
When a three-piece band lock in tightly, they can create a sound that’s far bigger than their constituent parts, and that’s precisely what No Alternative deliver. With no place to hide, each instrument must come to the fore, and the band get straight in the audience’s face. Displaying an obvious chemistry, drummer Greg Langston and Jeff Rees create a formidable rhythm section, while the aforementioned Hugh Patterson lays all sorts of magic atop. The band have fun with amphetamine-fuelled covers of Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison blues’ and Gene Vincent’s ‘Be Bop A Lula’, and it is to the band’s credit that original tunes such as ‘Rockabilly Rumble’ and set closer ‘Life Of Suicide’ display the same kind of swagger and panache.
Like many bands of their era, No Alternative were busy doing rather than documenting, and aside from a few cuts on notable compilation albums, left little in the way of recorded evidence. However, this set unearths two studio tracks, a nod to The Cramps with ‘Witch Doctor’, and some good old British aggro on ‘Working Class Boy’ (think Blitz and the 4-Skins). But, when it comes to no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners, hardcore punk, Live At Mabuhay Gardens proves there really is “No Alternative”!
- Live At Mabuhay Gardens: November 7, 1980 is released via Liberation Hall and is available now (from here).
- Damned To Hell
- The Good Die Young
- Right To Die
- Boy With A Needle
- Mary Sue Ellen’s Clique
- Folsom Prison Blues
- Be Bop A Lula
- Rockabilly Rumble
- Fucked Up
- Dying In The U.S.A.
- Life Of Suicide *
- Working Class Boy **
* Recorded At Hyde Street Studios, San Francisco, California, 1980
** Recorded At Razor’s Edge Studios, San Francisco, California, 1982