Every city’s punk scene has bands that made it and are renowned the world over, and every city has local legends who never made it beyond the confines of their own particular scene. Los Angeles, being a big city that spawned many legendary bands (X, Weirdos, The Blasters, et. al.) had its share, and one of them has finally had its day in the reissue ring. PHAST PHREDDIE & THEE PRECISIONS’ entire discography is now available as Limbo, a 2CD set named after one of their records and containing much, much more.
The first disc of this set is made up of Phast Phreddie’s debut, the 1982 live EP West Hollywood Freeze-Out, and their lone album, 1984’s Limbo. These are twenty songs of souped up, angular jump blues/R&B played by some of L.A.’s finest alternative musicians, recorded cheaply and quickly (“live to two-track, no remixes, no overdubs, what you get is what went down”) and with a decidedly punk feel. That’s partly thanks to the velocity of the songs, and partly to the attitude. The Phreddies were actually part of L.A.’s punk scene, so even though they don’t sound “punk” they were part of that world. In fact, read any book on any of the punk bands already named here – and many that aren’t – and Thee Precisions will not only be namechecked but held in high esteem. So, imagine my surprise when I finally heard the band (I was already familiar with their name) and couldn’t decide whether I liked them or not! Maybe it’s one of those cases where, if you were there at the time, you get it, and if you weren’t, you don’t, or maybe it’s just that I can’t get past Phast Phreddie’s singing voice. I’m not sure how to describe it… he sounded like the kind of smart ass who might have instigated more than his share of bar fights, someone who probably lost more of ’em than he won. Regardless, my first spin (through disc one only) left me questioning what all the fuss was/is about. Yes, the band is good. Yes, the band’s saxophonist is Steve Berlin, whom you’d know from both The Blasters and Los Lobos (though his name pops up on a zillion L.A.-based bands’ records). And yes, the guest list is also notable (D.J. Bonebrake, Peter Case, Marty Jourard of The Motels)(and that’s just the guests on Disc One!). But so far something was lacking… and then I put on Disc 2.
It’s got to be Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions’ live shows that made their reputation, because the live stuff (recorded at different live shows and band rehearsals) is what makes this set worth checking out. The sound quality isn’t all that great (what we would have called “a good audience tape” back in the day) but the performances sure are. I’ll bet if I could find some video of them performing it would all make sense. I really like “Only Lovers Left Alive,” their covers of “Peaches En Regalia” and “Hungry Freaks Daddy” (Zappa/The Mothers) and “Stone Free” (Hendrix), and one called “Empty Feeling.” With another twenty songs on the second disc, it’d be easy to get lost among Phreddie’s snotty-soundin’ vocals and the slightly dissonant saxes – not to mention the killer guitar of Harlan Hollander. But after a few listens to this compilation I can tell that those who praise this group aren’t wrong: these guys had to have put on one helluva show.
With Limbo you get, as the lead singer himself exaggerates in the liner notes, “more Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions than anyone could ever want.” Phans of the L.A. punk scene ought to pick this up just to understand what all the phuss is about.
3/5 (Manifesto MFO 46701, 2020)