The Plimsouls
Live! Beg, Borrow & Steal

During their early-80s heyday, the Plimsouls were sometimes frustrated by their square peg in a round scene status. They seemingly were never given the secret handshake from the local punks (quickly morphing into the insular hardcore scene) and were too straight-up rockin’ for the burgeoning paisley underground gaggle. Yet they nonetheless became fan faves because they simply wrote really great, dancey pop songs, perfect for top-down L.A. summertime sunset cruising—and maybe infused with some of that frustration. Which paid off in the most underrated power-pop album of the ’80s, their 1981 self-titled debut, and one of the best records of the ’80s period, 1983’s Everywhere at Once, their lone major-label release on Geffen. (And that’s not even mentioning singer Peter Case’s time in influential late-70s cult pop gods, the Nerves.)

But a too-soon break-up and Case’s spotty solo career has left the Plimsouls a big fish skeleton in that amorphous early-80s power-pop swamp. Diehards are left to salivate over infrequent re-packagings, while there’s still nary an inkling of a chance that the Geffen album ever gets the proper reissue treatment. And for that, this unearthed 1981 live recording of a show at Los Angeles’ Whiskey a Go Go is more than gravy (though some more details in the liner notes would’ve been nice).

Besides being a searing live doc, Live! Beg, Borrow & Steal could even act as a good introduction had you never heard the Plimsouls, with the best songs from both albums. Played two years before it was their one glowing hit, “Million Miles Away” here is resuscitated as a stinging rock & roll racer. The crowd seems to really get the fever around “Now” and “Women” and don’t let up from there. “Now” is a real revelation in this frantic live take, the ultimate shouldabeen hit. One can imagine it playing while Ducky runs out of the prom with Molly Ringwald in some original, pre-focus group ending of Pretty in Pink. Alas, neither were to be.

The rowdy party atmosphere recasts the band as not just another bunch of skinny tie and pointy boots revivalists, but a burning remnant of the excitement punk rock wrought at the butt-end of the ’70s. Early too-heavy reverb on Case’s vox eases up, and as the show proceeds, the band gets louder as Case yearns and cracks and gets all horny lonely teen on ya. Case’s singing style is a testament to a time when young white guitar-band singers wanted to sound black, a trait which has since been post-modernly ceded to hip-hop honkies, while pop fans today must wade through mostly defeated, drugged indie mopers.

The Plimsouls were at heart basically a garage bar band, playing ’50s and ’60s classics like “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” with shout-along background harmonies, horn players coming out for the encores, etc. Doing Thee Midniters’ “Jump, Jive, and Harmonize” shows the band’s DNA of then-forgotten ’60s L.A. soul-garage. But the sweat and Fender crunch shucked in and out of each roots-rock move echo all the possibilities that seemed suddenly open in 1980, especially in Los Angeles, where the scene—contrary to popular opinion—always lags a bit. Hell, the Sunset Strip the Plimsouls were constantly gigging upon wouldn’t even pick up on the New York Dolls’ glam shtick for another couple of years. But that’s another story...

Kind of. The amazing sound of this CD—the great guitar crunch especially, clearly split between left and right channels—displays the band’s ability to house all the then-recent new wave strains and slash them out at handclap-able will. The Plimsouls had a rep for being one of the best live L.A. bands ever, and here is the most keen document of that.
Eric Davidson

MP3: “Zero Hour”