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The Endtables - The Endtables

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Artist: The Endtables

Album: The Endtables

Label: Drag City

Review date: Apr. 20, 2010

The Killed by Death series of punk compilations released primarily during the early-mid 1990s completed a lot of critical circuits for fans of fast and foul rock music. By promoting the popular lore of punk rock ó the belief that every town with a creative criminal element had a few bands, each of whom had one or two really good songs ó the genreís fandom mutated into a kind of archeological quest for the most thoroughly diseased collectors (while at the same time, granting cheap access to those unwilling or unable to drop hundreds of dollars on a Stilted Abortions 45, or whatever).

Iím uncertain as to whether Louisville, Kentuckyís Endtables ever received the official KBD treatment, but their particular brutalities were first revealed to me during that same era of punk revisionism through a four-song single from Ď91 (10-plus years after the groupís implosion) that I aired religiously on my college radio station. The song "White Glove Test" ó arguably the Endtablesí shining moment ó ranks handily alongside other KBD classics like the Eatís "Communist Radio" or Detentionís "Dead Rock ní Rollers." Like many of the best obscuro punk sides, it is sloppy, unhinged, has guitars dialed to destroy, and boasts the same subtleties as an out-of-control Buick careening towards you at 90 miles an hour. Singer Steve Rigot, here described as "a flamboyant transgender giant... who reinvented himself as a Warhol Factory superstar" rants about cheap beer and venereal diseases in a manner thatís more reminiscent of a helium balloon being slowly degassed than it is of Darby Crash or the Electric Eels dude. In the most simple terms, the song is vile, reprehensible, and revels in its own tastelessness. It also totally kicks ass.

This CD gathers the "White Glove Test" single, an earlier 45 hewn from additional Ď79 recording sessions, and six live tracks from roughly the same time period. Unfortunately, what is revealed through this extended exposť isnít more of the appealing recklessness of "White Glove Test," but simple evidence that the song summates the Endtablesí notoriety with impressive efficiency... so much that the rest of their material ends up seeming secondary in nature.

Fans of punk reissues may not regard this as much of a surprise. In recent years, there has been a tendency to leech full-length releases from bands with few real records available for re-upping. The most common means of doing so is by adding sub-par demos, live tracks, or other sonic flotsam that would really only be of interest to people who routinely populated a particular groupís live shows. On the other hand, there are recent examples of punk reissues that either spotlight music that was totally missed out on to begin with, such as Deathís For All the World to See, or which simply zero in on a bandís fleeting moment of genius, as was the case with the Femsí "Go to a Party" 45. Interestingly, those releases, like this disc designed with the Endtables completist in mind, were all released by Drag City, and the Fems 45 is an important comparison because everything one needs to know about the Fems can be heard in "Go to A Party." It is, in the vernacular of irritating record collector types, a "perfect punk single," and the label wisely chose to reissue only that release despite the existence of myriad other Fems recordings. In the case of the Endtables, a similar "legacy act" treatment might have better served them because the live tracks that round out this discography CD wind up sounding filleresque in nature and really only detract from their defining moment of brilliance.

This isnít to say that the Endtables story isnít interesting or worth telling. Key players from the Louisville underground such as David Grubbs and Tara Key chime in via the liners with anecdotes from the bandís notoriously unpredictable live shows, and the impact they had on fringe acts now regarded as Endtables generational outgrowths. All of this makes for a fascinating case study, but one whose power is somewhat diminished by the multitude of crummy-sounding live cuts. Let there be no confusion: "White Glove Test" and its equally demented b-side ("Trick or Treat") are one-finger salutes on par with a dozen more well-known punk songs from the era. But musically, thereís not quite enough to neutralize the nagging sense that the bulk of the material herein might have been better suited to the MP3 blog realm.

By Mike Lupica

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