Although Devo, Rachel Sweet, Chrissie Hynde and the Waitresses all fared well on major labels during the new wave era, the Rubber City Rebels proved it was possible to come from Akron, Ohio and still roll into commercial oblivion. No matter. That didn’t stop them from more than two decades of blazing guitar and funny lyrics that share a sensibility with the first Dictators album. The Rebels’ side of From Akron, a local self-release shared 50-50 with the Bizarros, contains such ghastly/funny send-ups as “Brain Job” the infanticide-discouraging “Child Eaters.”
After a move to Los Angeles, the quartet led by singer-guitarist Rod Firestone and guitarist Buzz Clic earned a rep, got signed and made a self-titled album co-produced by Knack leader Doug Fieger for his band’s label. With loud instrumental skill and a strong sense of the absurd, Rubber City Rebels is a knockout record that gets the most mileage out of wonderfully snotty punkish originals like “Young and Dumb” and a recut “Child Eaters” (which resembles Killer-era Alice Cooper) and then fills up on a wild selection of covers, including ex-Nerve Jack Lee’s catchy and touching “Paper Dolls,” Fleetwood Mac’s kitschy ’50s fakeout “Somebody’s Gonna Get (Their Head Kicked in Tonight)” and the Sex Pistols’ “No Feelings.” This is rock satire that delivers a convincing kick as well as entertaining kicks. Reissued 20 years later, the album gained one more original (“Brainwave”) and two more well-chosen retreads — a crafty version of Alice Cooper’s superior ode to stardom “Caught in a Dream” and a tired swipe at the Stones’ “Surprise, Surprise.”
The Rebels folded for a time and Firestone moved on. The Firetones released the Trouble EP — four songs duplicated on both sides of a 12-inch. Unlike his former band, all the humor here is on the sleeve; the melodic guitar tunes offer rock excitement but not much rib-tickling.
Whatever happened to the group for a generation, June 8th, 2001 found Firestone, Clic and a new rhythm section onstage in fine fettle, augmenting the old repertoire with such relevant additions as the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer,” the Dolls’ “Personality Crisis” and the Music Machine’s “Talk Talk.” Live From Akron, which reveals a lot of the same charged show biz spirit as a Cheap Trick show, rocks just as hard as the band ever did, and the old songs hold up just fine. Bravo, boys!