Pagan Icons’ Second Round

Please welcome back LA noise-punk weirdos Saccharine Trust, though they never really left.

The early-to-mid-’80s were a volatile, wildly productive time for underground music all across the Golden State. A new wave of totally pissed-off sun-soaked youth from up and down the left coast spat out gobs of screaming hardcore, venomous punk, killer thrash, and industrial gloom. Twenty-six years later, these middle-aged fogy rebels refuse to let us young ones forget just how much ass they really did kick back in the Reagan years. Earlier this month, the Fillmore hosted a reunion blowout featuring Flipper, the Mutants, the Avengers, and the Dead Kennedys. More incredibly, the original lineup of Los Angeles legends the Flesh Eaters is jamming once again, and jamming hard. So now is as good a time as any for the fellow Angelenos in Saccharine Trust to head north and grace O-town with a gig at the Stork Club.

Now for the uninitiated, the Trust (as old-school hardcore types tagged it) was the first group not named Black Flag or the Minutemen to release a record on the now-legendary indie imprint SST Records. But here’s the surprising thing: The band got back together (and have remained together) years before this current spate of reunion mania. After breaking up in the ’90s, cryptic and confrontational singer Jack Brewer and brilliant axeman Joe Baiza re-formed the band in ’96 with a new rhythm section featuring Brian Christophers on skins and Chris Stein on bass. As Baiza tells me from his Los Angeles crib (after a hard day’s work for an art handling company), the group’s “current lineup has actually been together longer than the original group.”

No, the Trust getting back together has zilch to do with some current hardcore nostalgia trip. And that’s only fitting, because this group, endearingly described by writer Dave Lang as “SST’s ‘difficult’ outfit,” never followed the punk herd, as the jams comprising such LPs as Pagan Icons (’81), Surviving You, Always (’84), Worldbroken (’85), and The Great One Is Dead (’01) are not yer cookie-cutter, onetwothreefour mosh-pit fodder. To the contrary, Sac Trust was one of the first underground groups in America to fuse fist-to-the-face hardcore grooves and Captain Beefheart-informed art rock full of gnarled time changes, heady neo-beat wordplay, and fire-breathing free-jazz exploration. It’s a radically artsy fusion (Baiza calls it “poetry music” or “mini-theater”) that actually helped establish the modern, international punkified jazz and improvisational noise traditions that such Bay Area heavies as Total Shutdown and the Flying Luttenbachers presently honor.

“When we were in the Bay Area last year, I realized there was a lot of this music [noisy free improv] going on,” Baiza explains. “I really didn’t know there were young people interested in this music. And I’ve been interested in it a long time, so it was kind of strange.”

The Trust’s fans return that interest. “I think Joe Baiza is one of the greatest guitar players ever, and Jack Brewer is a serious poet,” says Oakland musician Damon Smith, an accomplished double bassist who has jammed with a long list of sonic mavericks from Cecil Taylor to Elliott Sharp to John Tchicai to Baiza and Brewer themselves. To prove his love, he also leaves me a wonderfully rambling voicemail gushing that Saccharine Trust’s Worldbroken LP — a recording of a totally improvised live gig at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica — forever altered his views on punk rock, jazz, and free-form jamming. “A lot of what they’re doing deals with the fine arts in a rock music context,” Smith concludes.

Smith now jams with Flying Luttenbachers drummer and founder Weasel Walter in his side project, the Weasel Walter Quartet, which specializes in a virulent form of death jazz. Walter — who is also a music scholar, archivist, and writer — echoes Smith’s praise and sums up Sac Trust in just two words: “True modernists.”

“We’re much older, but we’re still doing it,” Baiza concludes in his raspy growl. “Experimentation is natural for us. We’re just trying to do something different, and maybe we’ve tried a little too hard sometimes. But it’s all about no restrictions. It’s wide open.”

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