Watch punk pioneers Dead Boys play a filthy ‘Sonic Reducer’ live at CBGB’s, 1977
To say that the explosion of punk erupted out of the two epicentres of the western world in London and New York would be to forget the vital contribution made by a host of other acts made to the genre’s crashing wave of three-chord wonderment. As well as the pioneering acts like The Stooges who came from Detroit and the extra pop-power the Buzzcocks from Manchester gave the scene in Britain, there were the influential punk legends that are The Dead Boys.
Led by Stiv Bators with lead guitarist Cheetah Chrome as his second-in-command, the Dead Boys quickly became the face of the punk scene in their native Cleveland as part of other acts. However, after being encouraged by Joey Ramone to move to the Big Apple to capitalise on the growing underground circuit that was opening its doors for new and filthy acts, the act jumped at the chance. It was a scene made for the ludicrous nature of the group.
If there was one spot in New York that had its door to punk artists, wedged with the only known toilet roll in the building, it was Hilly Kristal’s punk Mecca CBGB’s. It was a venue that the Dead Boys dominated. It was here that Bators would make his name known among the underground elite that was now milling around the depths of NYC by doing things like slashing open his own stomach with the mic stand, a stunt that he did on more than one occasion.
It was behaviour like this that kept Dead Boys off the mainstream radio, label bosses and radio execs far too scared to touch the aggressive punk act. It certainly wasn’t because of the songs, naturally, they came equipped with some of the most influential and visceral songs punk had ever seen. One such track that really stood them apart, was ‘Sonic Reducer’.
When chef Anthony Bourdain picked the number as one of his favourites, he said of the song, and the band: “When you’re talking about sheer anger and sort of an update to 96 Tears, another revenge fantasy—Sonic Reducer by The Dead Boys.”
He added: “It doesn’t get any angrier. The name of the album was Young, Loud & Snotty, and they delivered on that promise. It’s one of the most pure punk albums, I think, ever recorded and a classic punk song. The musicianship is not the best, they were really one of the ugliest band to ever walk a stage. But in that sense, it really encapsulated punk at its lowest and best.”
The track was written by Cheetah Chrome and David Thomas while they were in their previous band Rocket from the Tombs and went on to feature on Dead Boys’ 1977 album Young, Loud and Snotty. The track has been widely covered by artists like Guns N’ Roses, Pearl Jam and Die Toten Hosen, to name a few. But nobody could get anywhere near to the scything performance Dead Boys brought to the track.
In the clip below, you can watch all of the performance, a show that includes a hell of a lot of sneering, a bit of spitting and a setlist full of hard and fast songs capable of tearing your face in half. Why The Dead Boys aren’t more resolutely considered as part of the pioneering punk set, is frankly beyond us.
Looking back at performances like this, live at CBGB’s, it’s easy to see how they dominated the underground rock scene. Judging by the show, it’s easy to see how they were the entire thing.