Although the Flesh Eaters existed intermittently in many forms over the decades, they no doubt remain best remembered as the band who made the 1981 classic, A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die. Culling an LA underground supergroup of sorts from his cadre of friends, Chris Desjardin (a.k.a. Chris D) created an album that stands as one of the seminal records of the period. As such, it was no surprise that when this group rolled into town, the old guard turned out in droves on a cold Sunday night to bear witness.
Also of the old guard, former Hüsker Dü member Greg Norton is the new bassist for Porcupine, the Minneapolis three-piece that opened the show. Not showing his age, though, he was bouncing over the stage like a mustached spring chicken as the band played an energetic set held together by the exceptional drumming of Ian Prince. Lead by singer/guitarist Casey Virock, Porcupine plays a tight, but slightly off-kilter brand of rock that juts at sharp angles at times, but is also equally melodic when it wants. Theirs was an engaging earful to say the least, and a nice apertif to what was to come.
Some 37 years since the release of A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die, here was the band that made that record—Dave Alvin (guitar) and Bill Bateman (drums) of The Blasters, John Doe (bass) and DJ Bonebrake (vibes and drums) of X, and Steve Berlin (saxophone) of Los Lobos—taking the stage together with Chris D again. Joined by Desjardin’s one-time wife and partner in the Divine Horsemen, Julie Christensen, they wasted no time warming up as they lurched into “See You in the Boneyard” from that platter. It was quickly apparent that they had gathered no moss, and the subsequent cut, “Pray ‘Til You Sweat,” was even more ferocious, even with Desjardin’s voice now less of a yelp and more of a croon. They didn’t restrict themselves to just A Minute to Pray, however, as they dug out “House Amid the Thickets” from 1999’s Ashes of Time, which was made by an entirely different line-up. And while there was plenty more to come from A Minute to Pray, the band has also released a new album, I Used to Be Pretty and songs from it like their cover of The Sonics’ “Cinderella” stood up to everything else.
The night was full of transcendent moments where the band tapped into a rollicking groove, with each member seemingly moved by some kind of divine R&R spirit. Alvin and Doe, frequently exchanging smiles and whispered asides, seemed to be particularly enjoying themselves, while the crowd picked up on the vibe. The repeating guitar line of “Satan’s Stomp” was a good example, the song building into something the belied its seeming simplicity. “Divine Horsemen” was another cut that blossomed live, its repetition as much a part of its power as Alvin’s solos.
For the encore, the Flesh Eaters covered “She’s Like Heroin to Me” by their long gone contemporaries The Gun Club. It was a fitting choice and the band churned out a rollicking version that hit all the right visceral notes. With “Ghost Cave Lament,” a cut from the new record steeped in the same kind of streetwise noir that has always been Desjardin’s forte, the band struck a moodier, but no less powerful note to end what was an unassumingly special night.