Sure, he wrote The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and later won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. But to me, Michael Chabon will always be known, initially, as the guy who used to sing in The Bats. Not to denigrate his other accomplishments, but that band — Pittsburgh's The Bats, not the band from New Zealand or anyplace else — left a strong impression on these ears.
In the summer of 1984, the Electric Banana started having Sunday-night all-ages shows. One night in July, the bill featured The Bats. Unlike the hardcore bands that usually played each week, the band's songs were slower and edgy, especially one where bassist Lee Skirboll beat a two-chord riff into the ground for over five minutes. He and guitarists Sam Matthews and Ruth Ann Schmidt all took turns singing too, in what seemed like a rare egalitarian approach.
It turns out Chabon had fronted the band at its debut a few months earlier, before leaving town. He also recorded a four-song demo with The Bats, which Mind Cure Records has just released for the first time. Sounding light-years better than my third-generation cassette dub, the record captures the excitement of a band that's starting to gel. The talk-sung lyrics of "Wild West" explode with stream-of-consciousness imagery. "Yesterday Does Not Rule" sounds almost anthemic, with its unironic "bah bah bah" refrain. "What Time Is It," the aforementioned two-chord assault, still hits hard, even if enjoying it means I've succumbed to the song's cynical message. Chabon wasn't the strongest singer — imagine a more nasal version of Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley — but punk rock was never about that. He has the delivery. Drummer Mark "Magee" Miller keeps the band tight, and Matthews delivers some great yowling leads.
The EP comes with a download of both the demo and an audio recording of the fabled live show with Chabon. It's clear from the raw recording that the author-to-be was a natural performer, but what really makes it memorable is the force of the band. Perhaps you had to be there, but this music still shoots sparks 30 years later.