What allegedly began as an excuse for punk fashions became, briefly, the most powerful band in the San Francisco area; the Avengers’ original EP was a minor classic of its time, indicating that they might have become America’s best straight-ahead punk (not hardcore) band had they lasted. The four-song Avengers 12-inch boasts tight, memorable cuts instrumentally akin to Johnny Thunders and the Sex Pistols, though it’s Penelope Houston’s intoning words of some depth that makes the difference. Like X without any pretensions; too bad Steve Jones couldn’t finish the production (the mix needed him).
The posthumous album reprises the entire contents of that EP, adding a stack of ace punk tunes recorded (with one subsequent exception) in 1977 and 1978. Houston clearly prefigures Chrissie Hynde as the archetypal indomitable rock’n’roll woman — her strength and aggression are what elevates these tracks from energetic but typical punk to remarkable personal statements. Whether anyone outside of San Francisco realized it at the time, the Avengers were a major national musical asset. (The CD and cassette contain two bonus cuts.)
After the Avengers folded in 1979, the Los Angeles-born and Seattle-bred Houston worked with Alex Gibson and Howard Devoto. In 1986, her cleverly named group, Dash Thirty Dash (aka -30-; journalists will get the reference), issued a smart and melodic single, “Full of Wonder.” That song and its B-side also appear on her subsequent album, a folky acoustic collection produced by (and dedicated to) the late Snakefinger and played with a four-person band. While the lyrics are astute, and Houston’s skillful voice — an airy, mature soprano — fills Birdboys with lovely character, much of the simple music (self-composed with various collaborators, none of them as worthy as her Dash Thirty Dash partner) just isn’t that good.