Photographers: Eric Blum; Ebet Roberts; Fin Costello; David Corio; Howard Ruffner.
In the '70s, Ohio in general and Cleveland in particular were often used as a pop culture punch line, with comics making fun of the land of the burning river as the industrial Midwest began the long, slow decline that would reach critical mass a few decades down the line. However, unknown to many at the time, Ohio was home to one of the most fruitful underground rock scenes in the United States, and while the story of Cleveland's impressive proto-punk era (centered around Rocket from the Tombs and their many allies and offshoots) has been well documented over the passage of time, the less celebrated Akron area had nearly as many worthy bands. Burn Rubber City, Burn! Akron, Ohio: Punk and the Decline of the Mid-West 1975-80 is an installment in Soul Jazz Records' Punk 45 series, collecting rare sides from the explosion of indie singles that emerged with the rise of punk and new wave, and it offers ample evidence of how many great, off-kilter groups flourished in the Rubber City in the second half of the '70s. Nearly all of the bands on Burn Rubber City, Burn! were clearly new wave rather than punk (with the notable exception of the Rubber City Rebels), and this was a community where the musicians were not afraid to be arty; thankfully, their art was generally unpretentious, and what's refreshing about Burn Rubber City, Burn! is that most of these bands weren't looking for a riot of their own, but an opportunity to let their freak flags fly in a way that had nothing to do with post-hippie rock culture, and there's a freedom and eclecticism in these 18 sides that most compilations of new music from this era lack. In short, if you're looking for raw energy and downstroked guitar, Burn Rubber City, Burn! is not your cup of poison, but the deadpan dance grooves of the Waitresses' first recordings, the crude but intelligent electronic constructs of Devo's primitive sides, the playful angularities of the vaguely Zappa-esque Tin Huey and the Bizarros, the blues-shot explorations of 15-60-75 (The Numbers Band), the smart kid's pop of Jane Aire & the Belvederes, and the bitter collegiate polyrhythms of Chi-Pig make it clear Akron's bohemians had plenty to keep them busy on weekends; this disc summarizes a fascinating time and place in the growth of alternative rock, and though not everything here is brilliant, all of it is fascinating, and this is an unexpectedly rewarding issue in the Punk 45 series. ~ Mark Deming