The Plasmatics were a New York punk band short on longevity, but long on stage antics. Lead singer Wendy O. Williams was notorious for her act and there wasn’t much she wouldn’t do onstage to get a rise out of the crowd or just to piss someone off.
The band was put together in 1977 after Williams answered an ad for the theatrical artist and filmmaker, Rod Swanson. Along with Williams (vocals, sax, chainsaw, sledgehammer), the Plasmatics featured Wes Beech (guitar, keyboards), Chris Romanelli (bass, keyboards), Michael Ray (guitar), and Ray Callahan (drums) as its core members. From day one, the Plastmatics were controversial and Swanson was there to capture it all in this latest live DVD, “Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-81.” Swanson captures the band from their early days at CBGB’s to their rise at other venues including The Calderone Theater, Bond’s Casino, Perkins Palace, and the Dr. Pepper Festival.
“Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-81” is an interesting watch in that it follows the Plasmatics chronologically from their infancy at the world famous CBGB’s where the band was just a trio playing “Want You (Baby)” and “Tight Black Pants” on June 9, 1979. Here, the trio is just a straight up punk band with Williams doing her best Debbie Harry imitations in sparkly pants and a tight t-shirt. But as the shows progress over the years, the Plasmatics figure out the further they push the envelope, the more fans they would attract.
By the beginning of the 1980s, Williams was wearing a leather bra and bondage wear with her breast hanging out and only electrical tape covering her nipples. She had graduated from the spaz punk singer to cutting guitars in half with a chainsaw, smashing televisions with a sledgehammer and somehow, the band would always have a full sized broken down car on stage and they would smash it throughout the shows.
“Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-81” concludes with the Plasmatics back home in New York at the Dr. Pepper Festival on September 22, 1981. The band rips through “Sex Junkie,” “Squirm,” “Lunacy,” and “Black Leather Monster.” The band pulls out all the stops on this night with more intense stage antics. Williams went so far as masturbating on stage, simulating sex acts, using her chainsaw and sledgehammer. On this night, she took a homemade bomb and tossed it in the broken-down car blowing it up and the band leaving the stage in a wall of smoke, fire, and destruction.
As the stage antics got more intense, the band’s sound evolved from strictly street punk to heavy metal and hard rock. But it was their stage act, which outweighed the music and was part of the reason for their demise. I mean, after you blow a car up on stage, how much further can you go?