TV Smith, Dr. Frank, Spazboy, Juanita: Live at Brick by Brick, San Diego, 10/17/2003 By Eric

Nov 15, 2003

There's a part of me that wants to put my thumbs in my ears, wiggle my fingers, and stick out my tongue and say "Nhhhhhaaaaaa! I saw TV Smith and you didn't!" It was hard not to feel like one of the chosen few as the lanky ex-frontman for the Adverts finally made the leap across the Atlantic twenty-five years after first laying down on vinyl such classic punk tracks as "One Chord Wonders," "Bored Teenagers," and their signature track, "Gary Gilmore's Eyes."

But I would be an asshole to gloat and frankly, I really do wish everyone reading these words had had the opportunity to catch Smith who has lost none of his wit or sincerity. A paltry nineteen people stuck it out through three opening acts to hear Smith work (and I mean WORK) his way through some of the best class-conscious material this side of Billy Bragg.

Opening the show was Spazboy, a San Diego trio who has been cranking out that pop punk sound which, sadly, has gotten watered down by waaaaaaaaay too many radio-friendly outfits over the last ten years. Back when these guys started, Green Day had yet to land a major label deal and other bands like Big Drill Car, Dharma Bums and Mr. T Experience had pretty much cornered the market in lonely, self-absorbed, pothead punk rock. Thirteen years ago this stuff was great. To their credit, Spazboy still makes this stuff sound good. That's what you get for emphasizing your Buzzcocks roots rather than pristine Beach Boys backing vocals.

Now it seems that every quasi-punk wants to make a bid towards serious songwriting credibility by picking up an acoustic guitar. From the ponderous musings of John Maher to Jason Mraz, the singer-songwriter tradition of James Taylor is tragically alive and well. This doesn't bode well for the likes of Dr. Frank, former lead singer/guitarist for the Mr. T Experience, who took the stage after Juanita, a singer songwriter who had a serious Melissa Etheridge thing going.

MTX had their moment in the college radio sun and in their time, they had an admirable sense of humor while maintaining a solid, punky edge. Maybe it's just that MTX songs don't translate well on a six-string Yamaha. Whatever, some broken hearts songs have a lasting quality... others, after more than a decade, just come off as pathetic. When Dr. Frank whipped out "Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend" one was almost moved to take up a collection for a stripper or a hooker or something.

When TV Smith took the stage, it was kind of disappointing to see there was no backing band. Anyone who bought Crossing the Red Sea with The Adverts knows this was a group that, sadly, was undeservedly relegated to the sidelines of the first British punk invasion. They weren't on the Anarchy tour with the Pistols, the Clash, the Damned and the Heartbreakers. They never landed a major label deal. They never came to the US to experience both the love and hatred that other British bands encountered when they set foot in a country in love with people like Boston, Kansas, America and Debbie Boone. A few singles, a couple albums and - poof! - gone. In fact, for most American fans, exposure to the Adverts was limited to a brief appearance in Don Letts' spotty concert documentary film, The Punk Rock Movie.

All doubts were quickly put to bed however, as Smith launched into an hour-plus set which spotlighted the Adverts catalog as well as several post-1978 solo tracks. The show was one of only three scheduled (he played a set in Corona with the Vibrators, and was scheduled to play in New York later in the week before flying back to England to take part in a Joe Strummer memorial benefit show) and the man was literally dripping with sweat two songs into the show. The last time I saw someone put out this much effort for so few fans was in 1994 when Radio Birdman's Deniz Tek grinded it out for eight people in a San Diego dive bar gratis. You would have thought Smith was playing for several thousand instead of the two dozen wildly enthusiastic fans who cheered and requested songs.

It was good to see that after twenty-five years, the man had gotten neither fat nor bitter (not uncommon in the music world) and is possessed with the same spirit that came charging out of those crusty English clubs so long ago.