The Readymades: More Live Than Not – San Francisco 1978

Live and studio recordings of a San Francisco pop-punk legend

At the dawn of punk rock and the new wave, San Francisco’s Readymades sparked both fanship and controversy. Fanship for what New York Rocker described as a blend that leaned “towards the power and simplicity of punk and the accessibility of pop.” Controversy for much the same thing. Readymades lead singer Jonathan Postal had been the short-lived founding bassist of the Avengers, but after realizing his original songs weren’t going to get air time (and seemingly getting ghosted out of rehearsals), he formed a new band with more like-minded mates. As heard here, the Readymades certainly retained the energy of punk rock, but with melody, harmony and often a theatricality that was more rock ‘n’ roll than punk.

The band quickly shot to local fame, gaining a contract for a 3-song EP on Automatic Records after their first show at the Mabuhay Gardens, and quickly lining up opening slots for touring acts that included Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Blondie, Roxy Music, and the Police. They toured the west coast, playing dates as far north as Bellingham and Vancouver, and bringing the San Francisco scene to University of California campuses in Santa Cruz and Davis. They turned down an invitation to record for John Cale on his Spy label, and recorded demos with major label macher Sandy Pearlman. They garnered praise in local, national and international publications, and yet, in the end, failed to release anything on vinyl beyond two EPs and a few compilation tracks.

Why the band failed to gain a major label contract isn’t well documented, though it seems that internal artistic tensions split the group apart after only two years. Postal, who has a BFA in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute, built a career as both a commercial and fine arts photographer, and more recently as a guitar luthier. The band’s co-songwriter, keyboardist, saxophonist and musical director, Morey Goldstein, continued to make music with bands (including Big Bang Beat and the Zasu Pitts Memorial Orchestra), on-stage and for video games, before passing away in 2008. Guitarist Ricky Sludge (nee Eric Lenchner) continued to make music with the Dinos and Ultras, and teaches music through his Professor Sludge Academy.

In 2009 the Rave Up label gathered together many of the band’s recordings for the vinyl LP San Francisco – Mostly Alive, and Liberation Hall (which is reissuing several early titles from the 415 Records catalog) offers a playlist that adds three live cover songs. The collection opens with “415 Music” from the like-titled 1980 label compilation. Surprisingly,  the song and the label took “415” from the California penal code for disturbing the peace, rather than the local San Francisco area code. The song’s amped-up atmosphere disguises a cynical take on punk rock’s “white boys making white noise,” and highlights the in-betweenness of the Readymades highly-charged, but musically fluent music. Similarly, “Heretics” melds punk rock energy and harmony vocals in its tribute to 415 founders Howie Klein and Chris Knab’s late-70s radio show.

At the time, Postal characterized the band’s lyrics as being “things we think about… day to day stuff.” This included wondering about Supergirl’s indestructible hymen (perhaps a tip of the hat to Larry Niven’s science fiction story “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex”), the impact that technology has on children in the pure pop “Electric Toys,” the pacified escapism of the New York Dolls-styled “Edge City,” and the sterile post-disaster society of “After the Earthquake.” The kiss-off “Hurry Up and Go” trods more familiar lyrical ground, but includes the novel refrain “I’ll remember the good times when you’re gone,” and “Trying to Grow Up” finds itself between childhood and adulthood with the sentiment “I still act like a child, but I look like a man.” There’s Bond-meets-the-Stones reverb and sax in “Spy,” and the influence of Bowie and the Velvet Underground on “Terry is a Space Cadet.”

The three live covers (which, along with the other live tracks were recorded at Miramonte High School in Orinda, California) added to this collection include Del Shannon’s “Runaway” (which briefly gives way to the Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run”), a committed run through the Animals’ “It’s My Life,” complete with the original’s call-and-response chorus vocals, and a boisterous take on the Rascals’ “Good Lovin’” to close the set. Missing in action are the four tracks from the band’s 1980 post-Postal EP, as well as the studio demo version of “Supergirl” featured on Rave Up’s LP. There are a few tape issues here and there, but everything’s quite listenable and demonstrates just how talented this band was live and in the studio. [©2021 Hyperbolium]

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Jonathan Postal’s Home Page
Jonathan Postal Guitars’ Home Page

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