Whether it was intentional or not (and, given the multi-media-angled nature of this release, which combines a comic book with a 7” single, it may indeed be intentional), Pirates Press and the Swingin’ Utters have actually done something pretty surprising with Boots ‘n Booze; while other bands (like NOFX, Butthole Surfers, The Replacements, Rancid and plenty of others) have embraced the fact that they have a rich history that fans are genuinely interested in trying to absorb, Swingin’ Utters have gone one step further (“better” or “worse” is dependent on whom one asks) and established a comic book series (which was once considered a lower form, but has seen its profile improve, in recent years) which tells their story entitled Boots ‘n Booze.
With the help of nine different artists and authors, Boots ‘n Booze tells the story of a group of friends who form a band in Santa Cruz, CA (not unlike Swingin’ Utters) and seek their fortune on the road, on a number of stages and in the studio. Each of the book’s forty-two pages goes out of its way to distinguish itself from the rest, using stylistic variations (some pages are color, some pages are monochrome – and the artwork distinguishes itself by regularly changing artists as well) and different authoritative voices. Every step and panel along the way, readers get a sense of how unique the Swingin’ Utters really are; the story and characters in it are incredibly rich and, by the end of the book, readers are left hoping for more, because they know the story isn’t over.
Conversely, the 7” that accompanies the comic book is every inch the concession that the band has made for the benefit of context in this release. “Live at Ritchie’s New Year’s Eve Party” collects a couple of cuts which came from precisely the show that the title implies; sounding as though it may have been captured onto cassette from the most acoustically mute corner of the room in which the show was performed, finding every flaw in the sound is easy (Johnny Peebucks’ vocals are muffled throughout, the guitars are tinny and the bass is muddy – the only conventional sin this live recording is not guilty of is that the drums are not too high in the mix)i – but that doesn’t mean the music isn’t without its charms. After a brief introduction of obligatory crowd noise introduces “Tell Us The Truth” on the A-side, the band just sort of erupts into a grisly but promising permutation of early Nineties melodic hardcore. The influences are pretty easy to spot here; Peebucks’ proto-provocateur vocal delivery calls elements of Jello Biafra and Johnny Rotten to mind and, while the lyrics are completely unintelligible, the singer’s aspirations (for that time) are perfectly self-evident. Likewise, the performance isn’t perfect (and the sound quality lives up to the manner in which it was captured), but there are hints at where the band was coming from – if not necessarily where they were headed.
While the B-side doesn’t necessarily ring the same as its counterpart (“Sorry” features a different bassist and features a much cleaner sound capture), it definitely represents a fine play for a two-song single – and that it is the “B-side song” basically ensures that the single ends on a strong note. From the very beginning, Swingin’ Utters feel tighter and more aggressive than they were on the A-side, and the bass performance not only makes the song boisterous and propulsive, it also makes the fact that the tape which captured the song got a little mangled irrelevant. After hearing it the first time here, listeners may find themselves searching the internet for a more studio-christened and glossy version of the song.
“So is the first issue of Boots ‘n Booze a release worth finding?”
As first issues go, there’s no question that it is a solid offering because the book ends in a place that will have readers looking for another installment and, if indeed the issues continue to be packaged with a 7” single, the one included here will likely pique the interest of everyone – fans both old and new – and have them hoping for a step up and forward. Overall, this release is a solid start; it’ll be interesting to see where the series goes from here and how long it runs. [Bill Adams]
Boots ‘n Booze issue #1 is out now. Buy it here, directly from Pirates Press Records.