I liked 'em very much -- I saw them many times and copped a few moves from those guys. They also kicked out the jams when they played with the Unknowns at a San Dieguito High School dance (from which MRAT Nee was forcibly ejected).
What's the consensus on the Penetrators' influence in San Diego music ca. 1980? Too commercial? Not commercial enough? I'd love to get my hands on that EP.
I have vague memories of a sentiment that the Pens were considered "sell-outs".
A (relatively) more recent memory -- the lead singer (Gary Heffern?) tried to hijack a gig I did at "Club Cult" with my mid-80s band, Synesthesia. He seemed to think we should cut our set short so he could do a poetry reading or something. I remember thinking, "this dude is a real jackass"
My very first show was the Penetrators and the Mature Adults at some high school gym, I think I was probably in 9th or 10th grade, so it would have been ~1980. At the time, I thought they were the coolest thing on earth. I was an avid fan of drummer Dan McLain's Snare magazine with his homestyle cartoons of the scene. I'm sure if I heard their singles now they would sound dated and the singer's posturing would be a bit cloying, but I had hella 16 year old fun at those shows. So, yay in that context, for opening up the scene. I'll bet their records would not hold much of a candle next to the pre-Henry Rollins Black Flag records, which just get better with time. Like the Injections.
My recollection was that the early singles were cool, the EP less so and their much delayed LP ("A Sweet Kiss from Mommy" with perhaps world's worst album cover, consisting of hundreds of butts) considerably less so.
Kristin: I think I was at that show! Gary Heffern got into some sort of piano-bar poet mode -- and while I didn't actually witness this spectacle, I heard he'd read his lyrics and CRY sometimes! "Nervous fingers ... *sniff* ... I WISH they'd go away!"
He moved to Seattle after that. When I visited Eddie Vedder up there around '95, Eddie said Gary had tapped their shared SD history and gotten him to contribute backing vocals to an album -- Eddie appeared as "Wes C. Attle," I believe. (Heffern seems to have become a bit of a fixture in that area ... Maybe he can help us find Tommy Clarke!)
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/23/2008 11:59PM by Mmrothenberg.
But does he read the lyrics in the same kind of inxs/oingo boingo voice? Now that would be cool.
The first show I ever saw was the Penetrators and the Standbys at the Backdoor in 1978 when I was 14. When the Penetrator came out on stage, Dan McClain DOVE onto the stage and slid across it on his chest. Gary Heffern was chugging beer between lyrics and puked. It was great.
They still had a very punk edge at that time, but I think they evolved into a sillier new wavey thing. I think their music got worse as they went on. I always liked "StimmmmmmuLAYshun" though. I wish I had that record...Chris Davies guitar licks on that are great. I used to have Walk the Beat, but I never liked it very much...not enough of Chris Davies, who was the main thing I liked about them.
Gary Heffern was a really animated performer...I saw them once at Headquarters, and he was swinging from those rafters they had on the ceiling. We played with them at what was probably their last show (or one of their very last) at Dance City. I remember because right after that Dan McClain was booking shows at Bodies, and I know the band had broken up by then.
I'd give the Penetrators a mega thumbs-up.
Chris Davies is an amazing player who had a huge influence on me and I'm sure countless other guitarists in SD...he nailed the surf-tones when he wanted to but he wasn't ruled by the limitations of that style. And he had the ability to use facile control to go completely out of control on his instrument and generate a schizoid, manic energy that was unmatched. That kind of 'without a net' stuff that goes to a whole other place when it happens right.
The rhythm section was totally solid too...Dan McLain on drums, 'nuff said..
I think their undoing (and this could be completely offbase) is that they never shed the "new wave" label, weren't punk enough for most punks (you can't compare their sound to most of the 'core outfits), and they were so over-saturated with endless big shows at the Del Mar fair and such that locals took them for granted and expected them to become big stars, which they didn't. I'm sure they'd hate me for the comparison, but I'd compare the band's aesthetic approach to The Cars, who took the sum of their classic influences and hooks and stripped it down for a brave new wave world (even the wacky synth guy)...only The Cars were much slicker, corp rock 'n roll under the surface, and smarmy in a yuck way...the Penetrators had an actual axe to grind and seemed dangerous and also humorous with much better ideas than singing about their shoes (ok, 'Living In Stereo' is still a cool mysterious song..I digress).
I had no idea around '80 (I had Pen' flyers and articles tacked on my bedroom walls along with a lot of other influential bands shows and oddsuch) that just because they were plastered everywhere in the media, playing constantly in SD and were in every music publication in the region that all that coverage didn't amount for nothin' in terms of getting them seen by a wider audience.
And the "Sweet Kiss from Mommy" album sounds so horribly bitter..like it was so obvious to them that they couldn't help but write songs about it.."Nothing Town" pretty much sums that up and their audience at that point probably didn't want to hear the obvious stated in such a fashion. Is that an album that anbody outside of SD would relate to? It's a hard pill to listen to.
And of course that situation changed and SD became the cosmo powerhouse some long years later...I think.
Somebody could write a great book on the Penetrators...there's all the elements of the birth of SD's alt scene (before alt mean anything other than perhaps a computer term), heady ups and downs, being so influential and then becoming pariahs, the phoenix of The Beat Farmers and Dan's unfortunate passing. All before Rocket from the Ripped Off Name from Proto-Pere Ubu, Jowell, and Blank 292 (ouch, sorry! I'm sure that was just a coincidental name choice)...
Dick Dale, Penetrators, Unknowns at Golden Hall, 1981(?)...AWESOME!! Certainly one of the absolute best shows I have ever seen, in real life or in dreams...
So if you know Eddie Vedder, you probably know Beth Hayes and Dave George, yeah? If so- small world.
I dug the Penetrators. I think they will forever hold the spot as the best and most memorable New Wave band from San Diego, as well as the earliest. A very valid band and they should hold some great position of respect in the history of San Diego music.
>>>...he nailed the surf-tones when he wanted to but he wasn't ruled by the limitations of that style. And he had the ability to use facile control to go completely out of control on his instrument and generate a schizoid, manic energy that was unmatched. That kind of 'without a net' stuff that goes to a whole other place when it happens right.
That sums up my thoughts on Chris Davies exactly. He was one of the most creative and original guitar players I've ever heard. I think he was actually better in the T-Birds, because he did a lot more playing. You could hear the surf influence, but he never played any surf music cliches. These days, now that I actually know a little about music, I'd like to sit down and try to figure out what he was playing. Unfortunately, I dont have the records.
They had three EPs, I think. The first had Scott Harrington on guitar, not Chris. The songs were Untamed Youth, Be American, and Vengence (a bad Elvis Costello ripoff). The second EP had Stimulation (what were the other songs? anyone remember?). The third was a 33-sized EP...Walk The Beat. I never heard their album with the butts on the cover.
The Penetrators were the cover story in one issue of the Reader. The article was called "Two Dollar Tour." Steve Esmidina (he Reader's music critic) went along with the band on a small tour up the coast. To me at 14 or 15, it sounded like the most glamorous, exciting you could do, and I kept the article for years.
I think the Penetrators really went out of their way to distance themselves from punk in order to make it. They really went after the surfer crowd...surfers were thought of as more like yuppies then...the opposite of the punk/surf culture that took over a few years later.
Sounds like we're all resoundingly pro-Penetrators, and I know that many of us think the Unknowns kicked butt. Who else gained your respect among San Diego's New Wave bands? I dimly remember some dreck, but I'm having a hard time recalling other serious gems.
I suppose they probably fall closer to drek than quality New Wave, but DFX2 were pretty prevalent during the early days of 91X.
Also the T-birds were the premier cars-esque cover band, and the actual root of the beginnings of Personal Conflict (Lloyd and Joel were at a party and T-birds were playing. When they took a break Lloyd and Joel picked up a mic and a guitar and authentic blue mountain coffeeed out what I can only guess was a torturous rendition of Louie-Louie. After that They talked about starting a band and off they went.)
I love how the Dan McLain hand-written credits on the Stimulation single just instantly brings me back to days of reading and rereading copies of Snare and New Hippie..coolest rock and roll handwriting on the planet! I wish I knew how to make fonts because Dan's amazingly consistent lettering would make a great one (hint hint)!!
DaveF, Wow, I don't know how you found that. I've been looking for those songs for a long time! Thanks for posting it. I just listened to Stimulation...what a great song! I had a big smile on my face listening to it.
So what was the wiring setup you mentioned that Chris Davies used in his Strat? ...was that all three pickups on at once?
YAY! I still listen to my 45 of Stimulation. Wish I got to see their recent reunion in San Diego (a couple of years ago?). Did anyone here see that?
I met a girl in LA a couple years ago who was 21 at the time, and she said she loved all the San Diego bands from that time like the Unknowns and Penetrators. I couldn't believe she even knew about them.
That sound - call it New Wave if you wish - has been revived for the last few years by many young bands.
One of my first "scene" shows...in fact I think my actual initiation was being brought by Christopher to a Trousers/Circle Jerks thing at the Carpenters' Hall. I distinctly remember being ditched by my dear buddy Christopher 'cause he was so pretty that Sue Trouser could not resist...and it seemed that was Chris's real mission that night.
Ah youth. I got a clue and then caught a bus. Home alone after going to a gig with Chris. I got used to that. He was much prettier than I was and the girls just could not resist.
He's not been here (this blog) but I'm very pleased to report that we've spoken by phone today. Just as a matter of normal business, we are still in touch.
I LOVED the Penetrators. When I was about 12, I think, I read about them in the local press and was dazzled by the idea of a rock band that wasn't remote. In short order, I'd bought the second single, made buttons of them in my 7th grade art class, and dragged a friend to see them at Sea World. (This could be a mixed-up memory, but I remember a big tent adjacent to the park and two other local bands who weren't as good. Possibly Four Eyes was one of the two. The other might have been the Strangers.) The Penetrators seemed tickled by my geeky fanhood and accepted one of the buttons graciously, and I was sold. I bought all the subsequent vinyl (even though the album with all the butts wasn't much good), as well as a t-shirt.
Thanks to this thread, I've now listened to most of the band's complete discography for the first time in years (most of the vinyl being long gone), and I think it sounds pretty good. I like the character sketch in "I'm With the Guys," the deliberately annoying keyboard in "Walk the Beat" (it pisses off cats and children!), and lots of other stuff. The one that sounds the best to me now is "I-5," a sort of hyped-up surf instrumental.
Does anybody have the first single and/or the compilation tracks? They're not on the site that somebody referenced up-thread.
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/15/2008 05:05PM by Simon.
The Penetrators were a hell of a lot of fun. Remember "Nervous Fingers", when every one would hold there hands up and wiggle their fingers. A lot of punks frequented their shows. One time at the "Backdoor", they were playing with Robert Gordon. It was probably one of the first shows, aside from arena shows, where I had pre-purchased a ticket. It cost five bucks and the show ended up selling out. Well I ended up selling/ scalping my ticket to Frank or Tony Thing for 10 bucks because they desperately wanted to see the "Pens". After the Penetrators finished their set, I convinced the door man to let me in for two bucks and got to see an amazing performance by Mr. Rockabilly Boogie himself.
I always thought the Penetrators were pretty good although underated,
Of the many times I saw them one show stands out to me...
I went to see them at Grossmont college and there were only like 10-15 people there.....