City Paper is not for tourists
At this point, we’ve seen 12 volumes of the “Nuggets” series and at least 24 “Pebbles” compilations. So even the most optimistic miner of ’60s fuzz, garage rock, and psychedelia couldn’t be faulted for thinking the archival veins have been depleted. Yet here comes Spur, some 40-odd years after its, well, heyday, proving there’s some fantastic unheard music waiting for discovery. Spur was a rock group from Belleville, Ill., a midsize town in the southern part of the state whence the influential alt-twangers Uncle Tupelo emerged. The boys in Spur started as a folk-garage outfit called the Unknowns. Like many mid-’60s garage bands in the flyover states, the group quickly incorporated elements of the West Coast’s Sunset Strip psychedelic sound. If Spur’s catchy and dark gem “Mind Odyssey” is any indication, the group did better work with Strip aesthetic most, although Spur doesn’t quite measure up to, say, Buffalo Springfield. Reportedly, Spur earned some prime opening slots in the ’60s for Cream and the Grateful Dead. The 14-minute “Tribal Gathering/We Don’t Want To Know,” which sounds exactly like you’d think it would, would’ve felt right at a Dead gig: The drums are propulsive and the guitars meander beautifully, but by the time Spur kicks into the more streamlined, riff-driven “We Don’t Want to Know” for the final two-and-a-half minutes of the jam, it’s a relief. The sprawling moments aren’t bad, but the shorter, edgier songs prove to be the best showcase for Spur. Most satisfying among them is “Mr. Creep,” where reverb-effect vocals simulate the heavy breathing of an obscene phone caller, who sings in a distorted voice, “I never used to bother little girls.” (It’s at least as scary as a King Diamond horror-metal song.) Spur recorded its sole album in 1967 and released it in 1968 as Spur of the Moment (notice the singular in the original as opposed to the plural used for this Drag City compilation). The press release described the original as an “insanely rare micropressed LP.” I certainly had never heard of it. The folks at Drag City selected the best songs from the original and added a few unreleased tracks from the vault. Normally, musical archivists have the self-control of a hoarder, releasing every false start, crackly demo, and bad cover song. Thankfully, Drag City, in a fit of restraint and discretion, has assembled a strong, short set of tunes, even including a great Flying Burrito Brothers–style cover of the Beatles’ “Eight Days a Week.” Trust me, it’s better than it sounds—just another way Spur has defied the odds.