Flying the freak flag for a new generation
Down in a basement in downtown Indianapolis, a ghost is being reborn. The Latex Novelties, the very first punk rock band ever to appear in Indianapolis, is practicing for its first proper gig in more than 20 years this coming Saturday at Punk Rock Night in the Melody Inn.
The reformed band is tearing through “Just Meat” and is nailing it spectacularly when I show up. The Mysterious Mango is wigging out on atonal, yet catchy guitar lines, while the other guitarist, Greg Knox, spars with him across the cramped space. Drummer Davey Cretin and bassist Gregory Dean hold down a kinetic rhythm, while young-blood Justin Allen, formerly of The Slurs and The Mighty John Waynes, spits out lyrics as if he was born to be there.
The loss of founding brothers Peter Pills and Mo Geek made a reunion of Indy’s first punkers a highly unlikely and dubious possibility, but late last year, shortly after winning the Joey Ramone Lifetime Achievement Award at the Punk Rock Night Awards, an Italian record label released the Novelties’ first LP, A Girl’s Best Friend, in Europe and sold out all 5,000 of the initial run in short order.
Since then, other offers for record releases in the U.S. and abroad have been pouring in, as well as requests for tours and merchandise. To top it all off, filmmaker Keith Parker included their song, “Born to Destroy,” in his new indie film, Shadow People. The remaining members of the band, who had all played in one or more of the three previous incarnations of The Latex Novelties, knew it was time to do something. Eight months later, they are back in all their splendor.
The catalyst was Allen, who is a dead ringer for the legendary Pills. “When we originally set out to do this, we couldn’t have asked anyone to like, OK, ‘sing like Pills.’ That would have been wrong and unfair,” Cretin says. “But when Justin came in, he couldn’t help but nail the stuff. It’s just the way he’s wired.”
It also helps that Allen is one of only a handful of performers who could hold his own in a band notorious for outrageous costumes and deranged stage antics.
“Knox asked me to do one or two songs, and I told him I would have to do the whole set or I wouldn’t do it,” Allen says. “One of the real reasons I wanted to be in this band was [because] they do have staying power. All the songs tell a story. It isn’t just ‘Piss on that … raise two middle fingers in the air and raise the anarchy flag and then do nothing.’”
Cretin interjects, “The important thing is not just that Justin is like Pills, but he comes in and adds something new and modern to the songs. Our songs stand the test of time, but we’re not going after the people who were around in 1979, we’re after a new breed of punk rockers. Justin’s stage presence and voice is the key to that.”
Dean adds, “Plus, when I heard that he had taken a shit on the toilet at CBGB’s I thought to myself, ‘That’s my kind of guy.’ I mean, I’ve been in that bathroom. That takes some balls!”
Hook-filled songs like “High Cost of Living” and “We Don’t Wanna Go Home” were foreign to the Central Indiana landscape of the latter half of the ’70s, yet they attracted a group of similarly minded folks and paved the way for bands like The Zero Boys and Toxic Reasons. Fact is, any present Indianapolis band that gets up on a stage with a set of original songs owes a debt to The Latex Novelties.
“When we first started, it was so hard for us, because all there was in Indianapolis was cover bands, and nobody really cared about some band doing this early-NYC kinda glam rock stuff,” Cretin says. “Now, it’s the norm for a local band to do a set of all original songs. It’s all come full circle. We still have Mango’s songs, and now we have Justin Allen out front delivering the goods. Really, things could not have come together more perfectly.”
WHAT: Punk Rock Night featuring The Latex Novelties’ reunion show with The Sleazies, The Midnight Creeps and M.O.T.O.
WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 4, 9 p.m., $7, 21+
WHERE: The Melody Inn
WEB: www.myspace.com/latexnoveltiesband; www.punkrocknight.com