By Artie Capshaw
He saw our face go all agog and swore us to secrecy mid-set. (Remember when he leapt into the crowd and stuck us in a bearhug? That’s when he yelped in our ear “Don’t tell a fucking soul until it’s over!” And then he said something which sounded like “Very good, Jeeves!” but we don’t think that’s what he actually said.
Dead Lewis’ dizzying set Wednesday at the Bullfinch was—now it can be told—not a collection of ‘70s & ‘80s punk obscurities, as was advertised. The songs were indeed wild and raucous and went down like a squatter-filled house on fire. There was clapping and shouting and hooting and hellacious laughter. Punk as fuck.
Just older, that’s all. They all came from an LP of WW2-era British Music Hall songs, collectively titled Lord Ermsworth and Others: Crime Wave at Blandings, recorded live at the Blandings Theatre, Ukridge, UK, in 1940.
How do we know? We’re the one who lent Dead the disc, which we found in the quarter bin at Super Talented Awesome Records.
But that’s all the credit we can take. Dead’s the one who dressed these old wheezes up in safety pins and mohawks and palmed them off as classic punk. No one was the wiser—in fact, this brilliant stunt made everyone there much stupider, and happier for it. While we were scribbling the set list down madly, the pogoing around us was delirious, nonstop.
Here’s what got heard:
- “Hot Water” (originally recorded, without all those improvised “Fucks,” by Young Men in Spats, 1936).
- “Joy in the Morning” (no saucier now than it was when Uncle Fred recorded it in 1939)
- “Quick Service” (the Spats again, 1940. Everybody: “Paramount Ham! Paramount Ham!”)
- “Fish Preferred” (dirtiest of the lot; Lord Ermsworth, date unknown. You might know the clean version of this song, “Summer Lightning,” which nearly became a standard in the 1930s until “Fish Preferred” spoiled its success.)
- “The Girl in Blue” (another long-lost Lord Ermsworth bootleg)
- “A Damsel in Distress” (unrecognizable from its hit 1940 version by Eggs, Beans and Crumpets)
- “The Coming of Bill” (Say no more! Mr. Mulliner, 1928)
- “Sam in the Suburbs” (from the 1936 musical Laughing Gas)
- “Louder and Funnier” (Are we sure that one of those iconic ‘70s lesbian punk bands like Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen or Ice in the Bedroom or Bring on the Girls didn’t write this? Yeah, ’cause this penis-withering feminist rant first came out in 1927!)
- “Three Men and a Maid” (aka “The Girl on the Boat.” Even louder and funnier than “Louder and Funnier.”)
- “Sam the Sudden” (done in a whiny nasal drawl, just like the Mr. Mulliner original)
- “If I Were You” (underclass consciousness, half a century before the gobspit revolution)
- “The White Feather”, neatly segued into…
- “Love Among the Chickens” (wouldn’t you like to know?), ending with another originally understated Lord Ermsworth hit:
- “He Rather Enjoyed It.”
If you’re wondering how any local opening band could deliver a 15-song set at the Finch on a Wednesday, these monocle-friendly party tunes are all under three minutes to begin with. Thrust into a Bronx Cheer doubletime no-goddamn-guitar-solos format, most didn’t hit the minute-and-a-half mark, and “The Coming of Bill” took like 30 seconds.
You’d think that last number, “He Rather Enjoyed It,” would be kind of a give-away, and maybe Dead Lewis meant for it to be the set’s punchline. The song was covered by Monty Bodkin in 1972 on the glam-camp classic Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin, which is the kind of record that half the crowd at the Finch that night (most of them there for headliner Heavy Weather) would know by heart. But by that point all belief in the room has been long since suspended. The more absurd Dead’s intros became, the more furiously his band (who reportedly were as muchin the dark about the songs’ Music Hall origins as anyone in the room outside Dead and ours truly) thrashed and pounded, the more chaotic the scene became, the more this became one of those nights-of-a-lifetime that you just have to give up trying to explain.
We’re still shaking our head in disbelief a week later.
How does it feel to have been probably the only one at the Finch that night who was in on the joke? Try thunderstruck. We haven’t had a chance to speak to Dead Lewis yet about this—never one to hang at the bar after a set, he fled the room as the last distorted guitar note chimed, and we haven’t run into him since. (Early deadlines for this column haven’t helped. Happy holiday!).
Being able to appreciate the craftsmanship at work here, let alone the prankmanship, made us feel like one of those Elizabethan lit scholars in the castle on the hill—there’s fun in those footnotes and annotations. Seriously, somebody should be writing their thesis on the Musical Synchronicities of Disposable Pop Culture at Times of Great Despair in British History. Or maybe Dead should just do this set again in a European History classroom.
In any case, Young Men in Spats can really spit, Mr. Mulliner can sure mosh, Eggs Beans Crumpets can crunch and Lord Ermsby is the Nazz.
And Dead Lewis? Dead Lewis is a genius.
Gig up!: A new venue! The splendiferous Spence, freelance booking agent extraordinaire, has more touring acts ringing him up than the Finch, Hamilton’s and even all those campus lounges can handle, so he’s rented the Deer Guild Hall on Waterland St. for an all-day six-band bill on Saturday, headlined by up-and-coming indie royalty The Prince & Betty and also featuring (all from hither and yon, none local) The Gold Bat, The Swoop!, The Pothunters, A Gentleman of Leisure and Something Fresh (formerly Spring Fever; if you ask us, both names suck) . Plus one local band to be announced; we’re hoping its Money in the Bank (they’re checking their calendars). We’re also hoping this show puts money in Spence’s account too so he can do this again soon.