Tampa, Florida’s Stick Figures revered the Delta 5, opened for the Fall and caught the attention of John Peel in their short first run, churning out a clatter and rattle and jittering post-punk more in line with London or Manchester scenes than their native South Florida. The band, comprised of two sets of siblings plus a guitarist, was formed when its members met at the University of South Florida. Guitarist Bill Carey was just back from a 1978 exchange program to the U.K. where, between classes, he’d caught live performances by the Clash, the Jam and Patti Smith. He and bassist David Bowman shared a love for avant punk music and had played together previously in the Art Holes. They brought in Bowman’s sister Rachel Maready Evergreen, then 15, as a singer, and the Dansby brothers, Sid on guitar and Robert on drums. The band made only one recording in its heyday, a four-song self-titled EP. That EP plus six additional unreleased studio tracks, two live cuts and a modern day reworking of their most chaotic song “Ellis Otivator Dub” make up this compilation.
Stick Figures’ opening salvo, the mad, hurtling, scrambling, shout-along mayhem of “N-Light,” establishes right off the bat that there was nothing very Florida about this band. Instead, their sound aligned more with northern U.K. bands – the roughhousing clangor of Fire Engines, the sideways knocked dance punk of Delta 5, the stuttering menace of the Fall. Tight, trebly, staccato guitar tilted at thick wobbly blots of bass.Drums rattled along heedlessly at the brink of dissolution.Odd instruments popped up here and there, inexpertly but enthusiastically played.In “September,” the cut that John Peel singled out to play on his show, the brash young Rachel Maready Evergreen accompanies her singing on xylophone. That first EP ran the gamut from abstract noise (“Ellis Otivator Dub”) to something close to garage pop (“September”), at its best balancing chaotic punk energy with insistent tunes.
The previously unreleased tracks are much the same but rougher. “Green” picks at a stinging guitar lick, building a crazed rockabilly momentum as it gains speed. “Everplayed” slows to a sludgy, heavy crawl, while “Mr. Simon,” maybe the best of the unheard material, is quick and scorching and fanciful. The live tracks, “Language” and “Screaming,” make plain how much fun this band must have been—and how out of place in the redneck bars where performances sometimes ended in fist fights and, occasionally, guns drawn. The live tracks have a bounding, bouncing energy that’s not too far from Pylon.
One EP track gets a contemporary make-over here. Rob Dansby and Bill Carey reimagine the oddball “Ellis Otivator Dub,” with samples of Stick Figures songs and Moog synthesizers, sheathing rumbling bass in heavy reverb so that it pounds and pulses amid squiggling arcs of electronic sound.“ This is not required,” chants Evergreen, in a recorded fragment from decades ago, dusted off and put into service again. And sure, nothing about this South Florida band’s U.K. post-punk authenticity was required, or even very likely, but how amazing that this happened and that we can hear it again. | j kelly
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