Plasmatics - Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-81
What if you took the cartoonish rock spectacle of KISS, and mixed it with carnival sideshow freak show visuals, a juggernaut of pulsating barre chords, and the primal pornographic sex appeal of Marilyn Chambers? You’d have the Plasmatics, of course. Rod Swenson, singer Wendy O. Williams’ longtime domestic partner and manager, dug deep in to his archives to reveal about 64 minutes of rare, raw, and early Plasmatics concert footage (16 songs total).
The first video, “Want You Baby”, from July 26, 1978 at CBGB in New York City, erupts like a Ramones rapid-fire pogo-stick head banger, even though the visual physical manifestation of the band was still a work-in-progress. Thankfully, merely two songs in to this video compilation (“Tight Black Pants”, 1979, also from CBGB), lead guitarist Wes Beech already sports his infamous blue Mohawk and black satin French maid’s outfit.
The rest of this DVD is from the Plasmatics heyday of 1980-1981, when the stage antics were fully realized: Wendy, with breasts covered only by two small strips of electrical tape, inciting young male hysteria when she would lay down on the edge of the stage and reach in to the audience (“Sometimes I Feel It”), mock “Police” men chasing her about the stage, cutting a Les Paul guitar in half with a chainsaw, smashing television sets and a Cadillac with a sledgehammer, and other playful acts of destruction. On “Nothing” (Pasadena 1981) Williams runs straight in to the audience and directly confronts the fans, alá early 1970s Iggy Pop. By 1981 the automobile on the stage was being outright detonated into gigantic, belching, balls of flame.
A Plasmatics concert was not as chaotic as it may have initially appeared to concert goers, in fact it was very tightly choreographed. Ultimately, the fact that the Plasmatics were decades ahead of their time is glaringly, painfully obvious, like a sharp slap across the face. Their influence can be seen across a wide spectrum of musical acts, from the stripped-down Southern raunch of Nashville Pussy, to the sci-fi Neanderthal horror shock-rock of GWAR.
Generally speaking, the audio on this compilation is very good, even if video quality is occasionally a tad lacking. The band, and Wendy, give outstanding performances. The music is tighter and more diverse than one might think, and in the early days Wendy “sang” more than her later “shouty” metal style. Beech’s guitar playing in particular is extremely competent. The end result of this viewing is a renewed appreciation of a truly original American rock ‘n roll band, with a fearless and powerful front-woman, and provides a glimpse in to why the world should always remember and respect Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics.