Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Avengers



Thirty years ago many of you weren't even born and I was just a young kid, but this whole punk rock thing was already in full swing and there were a couple powerful women leading the charge. Pictured above is Penelope Houston, fronting her band The Avengers in 1978 (photo courtesy of longtime 10 Things contributor Bob Kondrak).

Houston was raised in Seattle and in the mid-'70s attended Fairhaven at Western Washington University in Bellingham (incidentally, at the same time as famed Northwest poster artist Art Chantry). By 1977 she moved to San Francisco and became the lead singer of The Avengers. The band gained attention in the burgeoning '77 punk scene through their debut 7" on Dangerhouse (which now sells for $200+ on Ebay) and opening for The Sex Pistols at Winterland. Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones went on to produce the second Avengers EP, which was released just after the band broke up in 1979. Houston went on to have a lengthy solo career.

Most of The Avengers record releases were posthumous, I picked their LP up in the mid-'80s, it was on Canada's CD Presents. The LP and early singles are fantastic, the music is catchy punk and Houston's vocals are not only strong and powerful, but at times searing and vicious (like on "Thin White Line" and "The American in Me.") "We Are the One" remains for me in my top 25 punk songs ever written... even though I broke down and sold my copy of it because it was worth so much.

Penelope Houston completely ignored fan calls to play Avengers songs live throughout her solo career and in interviews said the band would not get back together... but she had a change of heart in 2004 after another CD of old Avengers material was released and the band received yet another wave of attention. Houston reformed the band with the original guitarist (Gred Ingraham) and a bassist and drummer from The Plus Ones. They did a handful of live shows before ending... I really wish I could have caught them live. The thing that annoys me up the most is in 2006 Houston joined Pearl Jam on stage to perform "The American in Me" at the Bill Graham Civic Center, but at least it gives me hope we might hear more Avengers stuff from her in the future.

Between June of 1977 to June of 1979 The Avengers played just over 100 shows and headlined above bands like X, the Go-Go's, and the Dead Kennedys. While their moment was brief, they burned brightly and left a legacy of great material behind them. You can hear a few songs here.

Discography:
  • 1977, "We Are the One" 7" (Dangerhouse)
  • 1979, "Avengers" 12" (White Noise)
  • 1983, "Paint it Black" 7" (CD Presents)
  • 1983, "Avengers" LP (reissue of earlier material, CD Presents)
  • 1999, "Avengers Died for Your Sins LP/CD (unreleased material & outtakes, Lookout)
  • 2004, "The American in Me" CD (Live 1979 recording from the Waldorf, DBK Works)

3 comments:

Doug said...

I could be wrong but I always thought The Avengers were a San Francisco band.

Dan 10Things said...

Duh, good catch, thanks!

nick said...

The reformed avengers are playing in July in San Francisco - check out

http://punkturns30.blogspot.com/2008/05/san-franciso-punk-pioneers.html