Snow fell on a vacant Indiana University, and the campus lay quiet enough for visitors to hear the buzz of streetlamps. But inside Second Story, pretty little Bloomington turned dank and loud, smoked unfiltereds, refused cups and chugged pitchers of beers, moshed and pointed and witnessed a convergence, a rebirth, a time warp…a damn good party.
“Jesus CHRIST!!!” screamed Dale Lawrence, leading a punk rock version of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Hot Burrito #2″ as his newly reunited Gizmos slashed and churned around him. The punk-does-Gram-Parsons deal is old hat now, but the Gizmos were there before even Jason & the Scorchers, and the alt.country/Americana scene owes more than its participants often realize to this Bloomington quartet.
Actually, before the Gizmos, there was…the Gizmos. With different personnel, playing self-penned, Caveman punk songs like “That’s Cool (I Respect You More)” and “Kiss Of The Rat”. Those were not the Gizmos who came to Second Story, though.
These Gizmos synthesized the Ramones, Jonathan Richman, Chuck Berry and, eventually, country music. The resulting mix rerouted the band members’ sensibilities in ways that changed the world, if only a little. Lawrence went on to form the critically acclaimed, mysteriously brilliant Vulgar Boatmen with Robert Ray. Walter Salas-Humara was a Boatman, and he learned much through exposure to the songs of Lawrence and Ray. Salas-Humara later formed the Silos, an early and crucial inhabitant of the world we now call Americana.
Another Gizmo, guitarist Tim Carroll, was an IU student when he joined the band. Since then, he has moved to Nashville, had a song recorded by John Prine, and earned a reputation as a kingpin of the Nashville underground. Before that, Carroll lived in New York City (the Gizmos moved there in 1980, then disbanded in 1981) and formed the Blue Chieftains, who played a major role in the NYC roots/country scene fueled by Diesel Only Records.
All this musical history meant little to the ecstatic Hoosiers assembled that night in Bloomington. It was more about personal history, about a chance to relive pre-AIDS, pre-Reagan days of beery squalor.
Bassist Billy Nightshade was the spark plug, occasionally taking wondrous, menacing, screeching lead vocals. Drummer Shadow Myers delivered appropriate clatter and bombast, while original, “That’s Cool”-era Gizmo Davey Medlock banged an unmiked cowbell in largely random fashion. Lawrence delighted the roiling crowd with regional pride anthems “Rock ‘N’ Roll Don’t Come From New York” and “Midwest Can Be Alright”. And Carroll dumbed down his blistering Telecaster playing enough to be punk authentic, but not enough to sound like anything but a ringer.
Between songs, the Gizmos mostly smiled, and they should have: No way the band was this good way back when. Carroll’s masterful, country-inflected lead on “See About You” was a smashing, airbrushed reworking of a picture taken long ago, and each of the players (save for Medlock) added decades of craft to a long-ignored but freshly uncovered nugget of inspiration. The best of the song lot was “Lady Across The Street”, a groovy romp detailing troubles with a rock-unfriendly neighbor. She’s probably dead now, but the Gizmos live on. Sort of.