When there’s talk about the seminal bands that ignited this whole punk rock thing, we get the usual suspects: the Ramones, Sex Pistols, Clash, Black Flag, Minor Threat. But I rarely hear the Avengers being mentioned in the same sentence. To me at least, it seems like throughout the years, they’ve been overlooked. Was it because they were being overshadowed by the New York and British scenes? Did the Dead Kennedys take over the mantle as THE San Francisco punk band (even though the Avengers were around a full year before them)? Was it because it was fronted by a girl? Was it because they only lasted two years? Whatever the reason, what is known for certain is that in 1977, the Avengers were helping to kick start the west coast punk scene along with bands like Crime, the Nuns and the Dils. They were headlining shows over bands like DOA (heavily overlooked in their own right) and X and opening for Blondie, Talking Heads, and the Sex Pistols in their legendary last show. They were a great band and Died For Your Sins looks to cement that fact.
It’s too bad the Avengers were never able to properly record a full-length album. The only witness to the Avengers are a couple EPs, taped rehearsals and live performances. But bring that collection together in Died For Your Sins and you have a rock‘n'roll punk masterpiece that earns that distinction despite the gritty and muddy recordings. If you’re looking for cleanly produced studio tracks, look somewhere else (and good luck with that). It’s actually fitting that the only way you can hear the Avengers is capturing them as they were: stripped down and in a live setting. That and you get to hear fiery vocalist Penelope Houston telling some lame audience members “fuck you! get up! move your fucking asses!”
The addictive energy of “Teenage Rebel” is a great introduction to the band: the razor sharp guitar...breakneck drumming...driving basslines...it’s all there. You can tell they weren’t just your average punk band because both the songwriting and musicianship are rock solid. As one of the original punk rock women, Penelope’s fierce delivery and defiant attitude gives the band that extra edge, that extra intangible. When she sings “Everybody's trying to tell me how to live my life! / If I hear it one more time from you baby / gonna slit your gut with a knife!” on the aforementioned track, you know you did not want to fuck with this girl back then.
Lyrically, the Avengers take on every day life and how society in general is one of discontent and disgust. Some songs also have a definite political slant. But while the songs are angry, they’re also equally as empowering. In the anthemic "Friends Of Mine,” Penelope sings “don’t give it away! / the power to make a change / don’t throw it away! / the power to make a change! / the time is now!” With the conviction in her voice, you start to believe her. While the band played mostly straight forward, up-tempo, melodic punk numbers, they also show some diversity. They go from the uncharacteristically, un-punk 5-minute rocker, “The Good, The Bad, And The Kowalskis” to the blistering, almost hardcore-like “American In Me” to even a surf punk-tinged instrumental in “Joker’s Wild.” This compilation closes with one of their live tracks, a vicious balls-out rocker “We Are The One.” It sums up the Avengers perfectly: raw, alive, and pissed off.
This record will not win any points for style and polish. On the live tracks, it’s definitely hard to hear out the band as cleanly as you would like. But this is more than just song production. This is a document of the undeniable power and influence of one of punk's first and best. Every band fronted by a girl in the last 20 years from Hole to Sleater-Kinney to the Distillers owes something to the Avengers. Check that; many punk bands period owe something to the Avengers. At the start of a newly emerging subculture in California, the Avengers were making a name for themselves with their live shows. I gladly give them their due. If you haven’t heard of this band, go pick this up and do the same.