One of the key services provided by Rhino’s recent Children of Nuggets box set was to remind folks that there was plenty of great garage tracks released during that genre’s (comparative) Dark Age, the 1980s. But the funny thing is, with only a few exceptions (like, say, the Lyres), few of the “Children” sounded like their original Nuggets parents. That’s hardly a complaint — it speaks to garage rock’s evolution — but it leaves serious enthusiasts looking for a more direct missing link between the ’60s garage originators and their early ’80s scion. Leave it to another record label that loves forgotten garage rock, Bomp!, to unearth that connection: Minneapolis’ Hypstrz.
Live at the Longhorn collects the Hypstrz’s two long out of print records, 1979’s Hypstrz Live EP and 1981’s Hypstrization, both of which were recorded live at Jay’s Longhorn (once a steakhouse; hence the name) in Minneapolis over the course of a weekend in April 1979. The disc also includes 15 unreleased tracks from that concert, plus three more tracks recorded in 2004 that proves the band can still deliver the goods. From a purely technical standpoint, Live at the Longhorn sounds great for a live album recorded over 26 years ago. The vocals are clear, the mix is sharp, and the crowd isn’t intrusive. All live documents should sound this good.
What makes the Hypstrz — singer Bill Batson (not to be confused with Captain Marvel), guitarist/brother Ernest Batson, bassist Randy Weiss, and drummer John Haga — the missing link in garage history is that they were garage revivalists before that term even existed. Most of the tunes captured at the Longhorn are covers of classic Nuggets, and — I can only surmise, since I wouldn’t be born for another 14 months after this show was recorded — many of the songs had been consigned to the Lost Jukebox of History, especially in light of the prevailing musical trends of the late ’70s/early ’80s. (As points of comparison: the Crawdaddys’ Crawdaddy Express, a debut full of obscure ’60s garage/soul cover tunes, was also released in 1979; the Chesterfield Kings’ first album, also mostly obscure cover tunes, came out in 1983; and the first Lenny Kaye-curated Nuggets compilation wasn’t released until 1986. That’s about it for like-minded releases.)
As it is, the Hypstrz filled their set with the likes of Music Machine’s “Talk Talk”, Syndicate of Sound’s “Little Girl”, and (fellow Minneapolis-based) the Litter’s “Action Woman”. (Don’t worry, even if you don’t recognize the band names, you’ll recognize the songs once you hear them.) Live at the Longhorn showcases a band with great taste in rock ‘n’ roll and the good sense to perform these songs live on stage, where the energy and excitement of garage is best captured.
The band’s command of the wide variety of songs is impressive. Bill Batson adds the right amount of R&B to Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” and James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy”, then jumps to David Johansen-glammy on the Standells’ “Riot on Sunset Strip”. And while versatility and virtuosity are not always prerequisites for a successful garage guitarist, Ernest Batson amazes too, running the gamut from heavy blooze on “I Don’t” (one of the few original tunes here, not the Troggs song) to hard surf on “Only a Matter of Time” (another original) and even a waltz, with their take on the Shangri-Las’ “Remember (Walking in the Sand)”. And be sure to dig the solos on the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Slow Death” and the Pretty Things’ “Midnight to Six Man”.
If it all seems like so much arcane musical name dropping, that’s sort of the point. Thanks to bands like the Hypstrz that love rock ‘n’ roll — and, of course, labels like Bomp! that lovingly reissue long-forgotten rock records — I’m writing about acts like Love, Shadows of Knights, and the Remains in 2006, keeping the Great Rock ‘n’ Roll History Machine well-oiled and humming.
Who’s to say the Hypstrz knew or cared about their anthropological work; what Live at the Longhorn is about, as much today as 25 years ago, is the vitality of rock music. Pop this disc in your CD player, close your eyes, and it’s hard not to imagine yourself at Jay’s Longhorn in April ’79, beer in one hand, shaking your ass in time with the songs. That’s what the best bands, cover artists, or those with original songs make you do. As the band penned in the closing to the reissue’s liner notes, “All this sounds kinda high-falutin’ but the main thing to remember about the Hypstrz is… we want to have fun and we want to share that fun with everyone else.”