Screams From the Vault

Coinciding with the over-hyped, now-waning garage rock revival(White Stripes, Hives, etc.), ’60s psychedelic, beat and garagereissues have been popping up so much that it’s hard to keep track.Bands like Gonn and John’s Children have records out that areeasier to come by than when the bands were still kicking around.It’s hard to tell what’s good from what’s lame and I have learnedthat obscurity doesn’t necessarily mean greatness. Consequently, Iwas a bit ambivalent about Public Nuisance, so I waited a full twoyears after I first saw an article on them in Ugly Things magazineto buy the double CD set “Gotta Survive.” In the end I was suckeredin by their groovy haircuts and even got the same ‘do as theirdrummer at my last trimming.

The band featured guitarist/electricharpsichordist/singer/songwriter Dave Houston, rhythm guitarist JimMathews, bassist Pat Minter and drummer Ron McMaster. They begangigging around Sacramento and Northern California in 1964 undervarious monikers such as the Jaguars and Moss and the Rocks. Theyeventually opened for bigger names like the Doors, Sonny and Cher,the Grateful Dead and Buffalo Springfield.

The liner notes have tons of pictures of the band dressed inblack, sneering and defiantly posing and looking like a gang ofhoods. One would think with this look they’d be making a racketsimilar to that of the Ramones or early Stooges, but their sound ismore unique than that. I wouldn’t call them hoods, but ratherunabashed flower children and their music is good psychedelic rockthat is too heavy for the likes of the Turtles but too poppy forthe MC5. The CD set includes a great set of demos, a would-be albumand two different versions of surf singles as Moss and theRocks.

The albums are filled with optimistic psychedelic balladsdripping with fuzz bass and heavy guitar riffs, all overlaid with awhimsy-sounding electric harpsichord. What I like about the songsis that they take on a wide range of character. For instance,”Strawberry Man” is an earnest anti-war tune that has a Flipper-ishending which sounds like a simulation of the sound of napalmdropping. “Gotta Survive” turns into a rocking inspirational jamand “Ecstasy”, a great mystical freak-out tune, features Minter onvocals. His singing style is especially endearing, with hisproclivity for adding extra r’s and turning s’s into sh’s(Eerchshtrashee/Oh whrat a feerlin’/ I shreem to reach evrardray).The second CD is the heavier of the two, like Blue Cheer but stillretaining their pop harmonies. The heaviest song on this one isprobably “Pencraft Transcender” which sits along side great trackslike the funky “Daddy’s Comin’ Home” and a cover of “I’m OnlySleeping.”

What’s really a bummer about this set is that it is not just are-issue but in fact it’s the first time that the record-buyingpublic has had the chance to hear this music, a fact we can kindlythank Charlie Manson for. The Nuisance’s label, Equinox, was ownedby Terry Melcher, who had promised Manson a contract but never wentthrough with it. After Sharon Tate’s murder in Melcher’s home, hewent into hiding and his label subsequently went under. Theserecordings were then shelved, not to be released until 33 yearslater. And unfortunately, bassist Pat Minter, who passed away in1994, would never see the fruits of his labor.

The wait was worth it, however, and I find myself smilingwhenever put on these CDs. $20 may be a bit spendy for somethingwith a sound that is particular to the idealism of those times, butgood vibes are universal.