The 1980s, Hard and Fast at Iota

Monday, December 26, 2005

It was just like old times Friday night at Iota with two of the region's most storied bands slugging it out for the title of Rockin'est Band in D.C. The winners were the pogo-hopping headbangers that roiled now and again in a mosh pit in front of the stage, just like in the early 1980s when Switchblade and the Slickee Boys defined the sound of Washington rock.

Switchblade reunited bassist Johnny Castle and guitarist Ratso, both founding members at the top of their games and superbly assisted Friday by guitarist Paul Bell, who managed to re-create furiously plucked solos originally improvised by former members Eddie Angel (now with Los Straitjackets) and Steuart Smith (Eagles, et al.).

Their "metalbilly" set, dedicated to one of their major influences, the late Link Wray, kicked off with Wray's "Raw-Hide" and ended with his "Rumble," with "Run Chicken Run" and "Switchblade" performed along the way. Their own compositions -- "Hot Pink Panties," "Red, Hot and Cool" and "She Makes Me Rock Too Much" -- held their own, especially "Tight Blue Jeans," with guest Mark Wenner (Nighthawks) on harmonica.

By now the audience had already enjoyed its money's worth, but then the Slickee Boys took the stage for their annual reunion show and barely let the crowd catch its breath before launching into another high-energy performance, their best in several years.

Marshall Keith's lead guitar and Kim Kane's rhythm guitar meshed like clockwork, albeit a clock running considerably faster than 60 ticks a second. Mike Maxwell propelled the melodies into another sonic dimension with his relentless bass as singer Mark Noone seemed absolutely gleeful to be once again singing "Invisible People," "Escalator 66," "Gotta Tell Me Why," "This Party Sucks," "Death Lane" and an encore that included "When I Go to the Beach" and "Jailbait Janet." The band was just as strong at the end as at the beginning, which is saying something for a group that was founded in the mid-'70s.

But the man of the hour -- actually, all four hours -- was drummer Giles Cook, who played every song of the night with both bands, and not just keeping time but adding immeasurably to the tunes.

The worst part of the night? Not knowing whether there'd be another like it anytime soon.

-- Buzz McClain

© 2005 The Washington Post Company