We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Even to our jaded modern sensibilities, the sights and sounds of the late-’70s Louisville punkers the Endtables are delightfully jarring. Visually, the quartet had the accidental diversity of untouchable outcasts in a high school cafeteria. Lead singer Steve Rigot was a peroxided behemoth, a cornfed, trannied-out Gorgeous George. Guitarist Alex Durig, with his thousand-yard stare and fly-back ’do, could be an extra from the Matt Damon juvenile-delinquent flick Over the Edge. Alex’s fresh-faced little brother, Albert, only 15 at the time the band recorded, looked like he couldn’t believe he was getting away with it. Yet despite the band’s colorful appearance, it’s their music that feels relevant and urgent more than 30 years after its recording. The first obvious touchstone is Pere Ubu. Rigot had the same breadth of beam as Ubu frontman David Thomas, as well as a similar high-pitch delivery and bleating talk-sing style. This is particularly evident on “White Glove Test,” where Rigot proposes, “Burn down the churches/Before they burn you up.” Apparently, Thomas even contemplated signing the Endtables to his Hearthan label, but they broke up, citing “musical differences,” before anything was realized. That tension, of course, created some fantastic music. Rigot’s strained vocals and Steven Jan Humphrey’s agitated drumming are complemented by Alex Durig’s wailing, id-burst guitar solos. And speaking of Freud, the good doctor would have a field day with the Endtables’ many references to the male member. Exhibit A, “Circumcision,” features this observation: “The man is ancient/His penis is a grossity/It hangs to the floor/Stretchy and formless/But it’s clean.” But Alex Durig’s guitar is the real attention-grabber. His proficiency betrays years studying the rock canon, and his Ron Asheton–esque riffs on “They’re Guilty” and “White Glove Test” are feral. Many punk collectors who didn’t catch the band at the time discovered them on the essential 1994 comp Bloodstains Across the Midwest, which featured “Process of Elimination.” The record contained little information about the band; the back cover blurb merely said, “Fantastic shit from Louisville, Kentucky. Released in the year of our lord 1979 …. This is the original pure scum mix, which is supposed to be responsible for the way all subsequent Kentucky bands wanted to sound.” And indeed, the Endtables did inspire such Louisville ’80s scene stalwarts as Squirrel Bait and Babylon Dance Band. The Drag City label has been loyal to Louisville bands for years, putting out records by Gastr del Sol (feat. ex-Squirrel Bait member David Grubbs) and Will Oldham, and indiscriminately releasing every project by former members of Slint. The Endtables reissue, which features all seven studio tracks and six live ones from 1979, is an enduring snapshot of a scene and a just reward for Drag City’s fidelity to the ’Ville.