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Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2002



Rocket From the Crypt: "Live From Camp X-Ray"

John "Speedo" Reis' critical image is of a pop culture otaku who channeled his obsessions into decent rock 'n' roll that doesn't embarrass the artists it reveres. The name of his best-known group, Rocket From the Crypt, pays homage to both Rocket From the Tombs, the legendary Cleveland shock-rock group that spawned the Dead Boys and Pere Ubu, and Crypto, a Mexican horror movie/comic fanzine. Such obsessions usually don't amount to much in the long run. Reis has stayed fresh by indulging passing interests in offshoot bands (Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu, The Sultans), thus allowing him to stretch out artistically with his main gig.

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Someone unfamiliar with RFTC's relentlessly hard-driving sound isn't going to recognize much "art" on the band's newest CD, "Live From Camp X-Ray," which, in fact, is not a live album at all. With 10 songs each clocking in at under three minutes, it may not even qualify as an album. It does, however, qualify as RFTC's most ferociously focused collection since their 1995 major label debut, "Scream, Dracula, Scream," and not just because each track can peel paint off a wall at 20 paces.

Reis has always been tough on hypocrites and charlatans, but it wasn't until last year's change-of-pace album, "Group Sounds," that he directed some of his vitriol inward. "X-Ray" continues the self-evaluation, but not at the expense of what makes RFTC the greatest live band ever to come out of San Diego. On punkabilly scorchers like "Bucket of Piss" ("Make yourself useful!" goes the unforgettable chorus) and "I'm Not Invisible," Reis re-creates the spit-flying indignation of early Graham Parker, and in "I Wanna Know What I Wanna Know" he rages on about all his maddening confusions as if it were your fault. Already fueled by a two-man horn section that can poleax any ska-punk band on the planet, RFTC has added strings without subtracting an iota of urgency. It's a fast, hair-raising ride. Let's do it again.

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