Although heavily indebted to the sounds of the ’60s (they touch freely on surf-rock, psychedelia, folk-rock, etc.) Los Angeles’ Last — formed in 1976 and led by three Nolte brothers — play with modern-day punk intensity. L.A. Explosion! is a near-perfect debut, marred only by flat production. The performances are stunning, with Vitus Mataré’s authentic Vox/Farfisa organ riffs adding color to the melodic guitar leads and Joe Nolte’s distinctive vocals. Every track holds up, especially the hypnotic rocker “She Don’t Know Why I’m Here” and a surf-inspired ode to lost youth, “Every Summer Day.”
The 12-inch Fade to Black EP shows that the Last are indeed a group worth taking seriously. The four tracks are darker and moodier, yet the melodies are so enticing it’s a crime this stuff can’t find a commercial opening.
Amidst personnel changes, and facing an uncertain future, the Last released a French-only second album. Painting Smiles on a Dead Man is another winner, moving the organ up front and showcasing vocals that are at once more confident and demanding. Although one of Los Angeles’ most gifted groups, the Last split up in 1985.
A new Last — Joe and Mike Nolte, plus three newcomers — resurfaced unexpectedly in 1988 with a neat album produced by All leader Bill Stevenson. (David Nolte — now in Wednesday Week — had been in a very early version of the Descendents, Stevenson’s group.) Energized ’60s power pop remains the Last’s stock in trade, and they’ve lost none of their pep or melodiousness. The Noltes’ new songs have a resigned, cynical edge (“And They Laugh,” “Going Gone,” “Everywhere You Turn”), but the music belies that with ringing Byrdsy guitars, mild keyboards and appealing harmonies.
Again produced by Stevenson, Awakening makes no stylistic changes in composition but benefits from a toughened attack. Giving clear play to the band’s dual affinities for punk and paisley pop, the crisply tuneful album ranges from souped-up covers of the Beatles (“She Loves You”) and the Shirelles (“Baby It’s You”) to a great ballad/rocker “You,” the Farfisa-heavy pop of “Book of Life” and the intense “Garden Grow,” punctuated by Dave Nazworthy’s furious snare rolls. (Both Mataré and David Nolte make cameo appearances.)
Footnotes: Alex Gibson designed the sleeve of a 1978 Last single. Mataré has become a well-known LA record producer (Divine Weeks, Angst, Leaving Trains, etc.) and co-founded Trotsky Icepick. Drummer Dave Nazworthy splits his time between the Last and the Chemical People. In 1988, the Last ended a curious habit of not playing outside California, an isolationist (lazy?) policy that had been in force for fourteen years.