Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Dischord 4 - Government Issue - 'Legless Bull'
Recorded July 1981 - Inner Ear Studios
Released Sept. 1981
John Stabb - vocals
John Barry - guitar
Brian Gay - bass
Marc Alberstadt - drums
Rock & Roll Bullshit
Anarchy Is Dead
Bored To Death
I'm James Dean
As I was discovering this new world of underground music in the mid-80s, I came across bands by chance more than anything else. There was no YouTube or iTunes or Spotify to go give a band a quick listen. MTV, as much as it was an avenue for discovery for so much music I love, didn't touch too much punk beyond the Ramones or The Clash.
I had my local record store, Island Sound, with it's Punk/Hardcore section, so I'd buy records pretty much randomly out of that or at the suggestion of the cute girl with the green hair (an early crush - and she rarely steered me wrong).
I also bought a lot of records by mail order, flipping through the pages of Maximum Rock n Roll, Flipside or Forced Exposure. That was the most exciting because there was the anticipation of that package arriving in the mail.
There was an ad in one of those zines for the new release by a band called Government Issue. The album was 'You'. The cover art was interesting, and so I mailed out a few bucks for the cassette. A few weeks later it arrived, with a promo poster, which hung on my wall for years.
The 'You' album is one of my favorite albums of all time. It was a lucky find, but that album made me a fan for life. Each song was incredible and fairly complex. Peter Moffett's drumming on that album is about as good as it gets. I no longer have the cassette (why I'm not really sure) - but I do have a test pressing, which is pretty neat.
As I dove into the G.I. catalog, I was quick to learn that not all their records were as musically developed as 'You' or its follow-up 'Crash'. 'Boycott Stabb' was the second G.I. album I owned (which I do still have on cassette), which is an entirely different animal. An earlier more primal punk rock record, but still filled with great songs.
The only time I ever got to see G.I. was December 11, 2010, at The Black Cat in Washington, D.C. with Set To Explode and my old friends The Goons opening up.
It was a one-off reunion show of the 'You' line-up (the best one in my opinion) of core member/vocalist John Stabb and long-standing guitarist Tom Lyle, along with the monster rhythm section of J. Robbins and Peter Moffett. It's one of the best shows I've ever been to and well worth every hour of the drive down I-95.
G.I. did get together to play a few more shows, none of which I was able to go to, with original guitarist John Barry, before, sadly John Stabb, the only member who was in the band from beginning to end, passed away on May 7, 2016, at the age of 54 after a battle with stomach cancer. Stabb was a member of the Daghouse message board and always brought interesting posts and thoughts to that community. I always enjoyed interacting with him on the few occasions I was able to.
Government Issue was one of the longest running D.C. hardcore bands, their decade-long lifespan spanning, and existing, entirely in the 1980s (not including the occasional reunion shows years later when nothing new was actually written or recorded).
I wanted to write a little bit about G.I. if only because for such a long running and popular D.C. band, very few of their records actually came out on Dischord.
Where Government Issue and Dischord intersect is at the beginning for both band and label. The fourth release for Dischord was Government Issue's first (not including an earlier demo), the incredibly rare 'Legless Bull' 7", for which you will need to shell out several hundred dollars, if not more, to own.
Along with Stabb were original guitarist and bassist, John Barry and Brian Gay, who would not continue on with the band past this first 7", and drummer Marc Alberstadt who would be with the band for the better part of its existence, up until 1986's self-titled record.
The evolution of G.I. through the 1980s really parallels hardcore's own evolution during that decade. From hardcore's primitive, primal, raw roots, to the addition of melody and some complexity, to being accessible enough to be heard on at least college radio or MTV's 120 Minutes. While hardcore itself went through that evolution (although hardcore in its original form has always existed simultaneously, to the present day), few bands stuck around long enough to make that transition themselves. The Replacements and Husker Du are pretty good examples of bands who started raw and raging and ended up somewhere completely different. I would argue that G.I. is also an excellent example of such a band, although unlike either of those two bands, much of that musical evolution could also be attributed to the evolution of the line-ups involved. Unlike those two bands as well, G.I. never achieved any real commercial success.
Listening to 'Legless Bull' and the final LP, 1988's 'Crash', back-to-back, you would never think these two records were made by the same band. But listening to the G.I. catalog from start to finish, the transition makes total sense. Each record seemed to add an element to it that eventually led to the final two records, which are anything but the raw and simple hardcore found on the earliest releases.
'Legless Bull' is a pretty cool slice of early D.C. hardcore. It is not the monument that the first Minor Threat 7" is, but I'd say an improvement over the Teen Idles & S.O.A. records. 'Legless Bull' mostly stays safely within the confines of early hardcore without a whole lot of rule bending, but the performances are pretty solid, especially from drummer Alberstadt.
Some songs go by in a bit of a flash, but there are songs that definitely stand out on this one.
"Rock & Roll Bullshit" starts out with Stabb doing a mocking imitation of drunk rock 'n' roll dudes...."Kickass rock & roll man....". While taking the piss out of Van Halen and Supertramp seems obvious for its time, similar to what Teen Idles did to the Grateful Dead on "Deadhead", G.I. goes a step further and rips on two of punk rock's own icons - the Ramones & The Clash ("I used to listen to the Clash / Now they suck like all the trash / The Ramones used to be a hit / Now they're just a pile of shit"). I can't help but wonder what they would have thought about their own musical journey as a band if they could have peered into the future.
Similarly, in the very next song, "Anarchy Is Dead", an attack is made upon Crass ("Groups like Crass still believe in it / That's why their music's fulla shit / It's music, it's just sermon / Groups like Crass are all just vermin").
Musically, "Bored to Death" might be the best song on the record and, in fact, was re-recorded several years later in 1985 for the "The Fun Just Never Ends" LP. A straight-forward mid tempo song, but hooky all the way through.
"Sheer Terror", closing out side one, is where G.I. does venture outside of the obvious. A slowed down, repetitive dirge of a song which speeds up, briefly, come chorus time. "Sheer Terror" would get several makeovers over the course of the band's career, showing up in new versions on the 'Make an Effort' EP ('83), 'Boycott Stabb' ('83), and I think at least one later appearance as well.
Overall, a pretty strong, if not ground-breaking, start from a band that would just keep getting better and better.
Spotify has a tremendous amount of G.I. "Live Bootleg"'s and the earlier shows from 1981 and 1982 feature quite a bit of live material from the first 7", but even later shows still featured "Bored to Death" and "Sheer Terror" in the sets. Even the official live album, 'Strange Wine' from 1987 airs out "I'm James Dean".
In the band's final years, several shows scattered between 2012 and 2015, original guitarist John Barry was back in the fold, so audiences got treated to a whole bunch of 'Legless Bull' era songs. The final show I'm aware of, 7/18/15 at the Acheron in Brooklyn, featured seven songs from this 7".
From time to time, I will be soliciting some commentary from close friends who I know may have a real emotional attachment to some of these records that I might not.
I've known Vinny Segarra since 1992. We played in Humstinger together for a year or so but have remained close friends ever since. Vinny ran a label that released about a dozen or so records over the first half of the 1990s, which included some real gems.
Vinny is also the biggest G.I. fan I know and I asked him to do a a quick write-up for this one:
Let's face it, the D.C. scene was, is, and always will be an Ian/Minor T/Fugazi town. The three shadows have loomed large over the city for almost 40 years. Think about that. Back in the mid 80's when I was getting into hardcore, Minor Threat were one of the "big three" in the country, let alone D.C. (along w/the DK's and Black Flag), and they were already gone for a couple years.
Personally, I always put Minor Threat to the side because the one band for me were the GI's. By the time I got around to finally buying 'Make An Effort' off Bleeker Bob's wall, they were already a "post hardcore band". BUT, they still had the power, and the riffs.
I'm not a musician so I don't give a shit how well you play the drums, rattle the bass, and bang out the guitar shit. If you can't write a riff, you're dead to me. The GI's were the Sabbath of early 80's hardcore. The crew i started going to shows with liked the GI's, but they weren't anyone's favorite. They were my favorite.
Always pushed to the margins in '81 (pick your band), '86 (Dino Jr, Sonic Youth, Husker Du) but John Stabb and Tom Lyle kept putting out great release after great release. Let's not forget. And the reason Jeff asked me to write this is because it all started with the 'Legless Bull' ep. Jeff is going to write something stellar about it, he'll dissect the production, the writing what have you. and no one can write like him. He should be doing it more often. Fuck Jeff, what took you so long to do something like this?
I'm just going to say that from 1980 - 1989 (when I saw them @ the Pyramid w/20 people, it was one of their last shows) there isn't one band in "the scene, any fucking scene" that held the underground flag higher than them. Some bands have put out debut EPs as good as 'Legless Bull', not too many have put out better ones. But Jesus Fucking Christ what a record to kick out the jams for the first time.
Kids, put it this way, every time I hear 'Legless Bull', I wish i had an older sibling or kid down the block that was into this stuff 38 years ago to show me the light.
BANDCAMP - GOVERNMENT ISSUE - 'LEGLESS BULL'