In retrospect, it’s easy to dismiss the Germs as the epitome of LA’s early identipunk scene. Singer Darby Crash (Jan Paul Beahm, a.k.a. Bobby Pyn) was a barking spikey-haired brat, an alarming adolescent combination of Johnny Rotten’s snarling vocal ferocity and Sid Vicious’ self-destructive cool. Three years after the band’s first live performance (at the Whisky in 1977), Crash died of a drug overdose, reportedly self-inflicted in morbid tribute to Vicious’ own fatal OD in 1979.
Germicide, a cassette release of that first show, reinforces that notion. The tape is a raw documentary of spirited incompetence, with Crash ranting through “Sex Boy” and the rather prophetic “Suicide Madness” in a cynical bawl. Behind him, the band plods along with all the cheer of a migraine. A good third of the tape consists of Crash trading obscene insults with the crowd. Also of note: a tortuous disembowelment of the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar.”
After that, (GI) — “Germs Incognito” — is a revelation, a kinetic outburst of brute punk force. Two years of tightening and a new drummer (Don Bolles, later of 45 Grave) turned the Germs into a manic punk locomotive, speeding along with Damned intensity in spite of tinny production by Joan Jett. Aside from the overlong live “Shut Down,” the songs go by in a breathless rush, fueled by Pat Smear’s staccato fuzz guitar and Crash’s sometimes confused but often potent punk protest imagery. A key album in the development of American hardcore.
What We Do Is Secret, a posthumous bow to Darby, packages what’s left of the Germs’ recorded legacy on a 12-inch mini-album. The material includes a 1977 stab at Chuck Berry’s “Round and Round” with X drummer D.J. Bonebrake, an outtake from (GI) and live tracks recorded in late 1980, shortly before his death. Lion’s Share is an Australian compilation containing live cuts and assorted rarities.
Recorded under battle conditions by Geza X on a four-track, the fair-sounding Rock n’ Rule documents a motley but amusing 1979 Christmas party at the Whisky — the noise of flying bottles crashing onstage only adds to the grimy charm. Let the Circle Be Unbroken is another document of the band’s chaotic concert existence.