Few band names can instantly transport me back to the year 1995 like Rocket From the Crypt. I hear those four words and boom, I’m back in my tiny teenage bedroom, staring at the boob tube late on a Sunday night as Matt Pinfield’s gravely voice bulldozes my ears immediately before the colorful, humorous “On a Rope” video. The scenes of the big greaser dudes playing with puppies are funny, but the song isn’t really doing it for me and this is about the 18th time I’ve seen the damn video. I lower the volume, consider the ramifications of masturbating to the issue of Rolling Stone with Demi Moore on the cover that’s directly under my bed, and ultimately decide to go to sleep so I can be fresh as a daisy for another brutalizing week of the 11th grade.
Yes, I’m sad to say RFTC never lit a musical fire under my ass. While they were certainly rockin’ in every sense of the word, they didn’t have quite the same oomph or panache as, say, a Reverend Horton Heat or a Gluecifer. That reminds me: Gluecifer’s last gig ever was a supporting slot for the Crypt’s final East coast show at the corporate pile of b.s. that is New York’s Hard Rock Cafe, a show I actually attended for free, thanks to the miracle of knowing a guy who knew a guy. And I walked out of that cramped, dark venue the minute Gluecifer was done. So disinterested in Rocket was I that getting in my car and driving an hour and a half back up the Saw Mill Parkway to rural Connecticut was more appealing at that moment than sticking around for RFTC’s semi-generic brand of rock ‘n’ roll. I chose ill-lit, dangerous roadways late at night in favor of free Rocket from the Crypt. That’s where I was in 2005.
Three years can really change a man, though. I can openly admit now, after checking out this CD/DVD package of Rocket’s honest-to-God last gig, I regret the hasty decision I made on that fateful New York night oh so long ago. Recorded at the Westin Ballroom in their hometown of San Diego on All Hallow’s Eve, 2005, mere days after the performance I skipped out on, R.I.P. highlights that RFTC was a fun, loose live act who knew how to keep a crowd moving with plenty of hip-shaking riffage and general energy. “Let’s start from the very beginning,” says jovial singer Speedo before the band kicks into the meaty slammer that is “French Guy”, the first song from Rocket’s first album Paint As a Fragrance. From there it’s just one driving, melodic chunk of rock after another. “I’m Not Invisible”, “Get Down”, “Pigeon Eater” –- these tunes are all perfectly suited to be the average rocker’s soundtrack for a night spent cruisin’ around town or chilling in the backyard with a cooler full of brewskis. I certainly would take these sounds now over the scratchy old Shadow radio program cassettes I listened to on the way home from the Crypt show I didn’t see.
The R.I.P. DVD reveals not only that Rocket from the Crypt played a longer set than what’s featured on the CD, but that they played the entire damn thing in costume. It was Halloween, after all. Speedo was sporting a great Screamin’ Jay Hawkins outfit, complete with nose bone; that explains the band’s decision to open the show with an instrumental version of “I Put a Spell on You”. The rest of RFTC were zombie tribesmen (?) from an unidentified Pacific island. I want to say maybe the natives from King Kong? At any rate, there were grass skirts and skull makeup. It was a nice motif, but it eventually went out in favor of matching magenta sparkly shirts. Remember kids, it ain’t a real rock n’ roll show unless there are costume changes.)
Rocket from the Crypt chose to end their career with “Come See Come Saw”. This allowed the group to go out on a funky, bass-driven note for all of eternity (as opposed to going out on a gloomy, buzzing keyboard drone for all of eternity). Near the tune and his band’s completion, Speedo lovingly thanks the crowd and informs them, “If you ever feel nostalgic, just put on a record and we’ll be there in that room with you, ladies and gentlemen.” It’s a sweet sentiment and a great example of the attitude that probably kept this band as popular as they were for as long as they were. Of course, the rockin’ songs didn’t hurt (nor did the Fonzie-style hairdos, nor the cute puppies in their videos, nor the “get a tattoo of the RFTC logo, get in to our shows free forever” gimmick).
It should be noted that the cover of R.I.P. features one of those wacky optical illusions that will have you staring at it for hours until both of your eyes explode into small rivers of blood. Do not look directly at the cover of this album for more than two minutes at a time, especially if you are pregnant, have a heart condition, or are just incredibly old and fragile. You have been warned.