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D.O.A. - Something Better Change

Something Better Change
Friends - 1980

Michael Panontin
By December 1979, the twin punk explosions in New York and London had long given way to the more cerebral no wave and post-punk movements. Vancouver's D.O.A., though, had stuck to their guns, firing out snarly guitar-heavy punk even as the capitals had moved on...and it seemed to be paying off for them. 1979 had been the band's best year yet, though not without a few bumps in the road. As leader Joey Shithead explains in his excellent picture book Talk - Action = 0, "1979 was a good year, but we had one last show to do on December 7 at UBC's SUB Ballroom with Female Hands. The show's organizers did one really dumb thing - they hired UBC engineering students to do security. The engineers had a rep for being out of control and pushy. When D.O.A. hit the stage, the shit hit the fan. The engineers tried to stop the punks from stagediving. The harder they tried, the harder the punks fought back, and the punks were a lot tougher than the engineers thought, so the engineers got their collective asses kicked. Part way through the set, (drummer) Chuck (Biscuits) ran out from behind his kit and urged the crowd to go nuts: 'Anarchy, man! Destroy this dump!'"

By the time things had cooled down, the ballroom was destroyed, Biscuits had quit, their roadie Bob Montgomery was behind bars, and D.O.A. seemed to be through. Shithead cobbled together a new band, adding Dave Gregg as a second guitarist to beef up the sound a bit, but the lads struggled to recapture the energy of those early days. After a less-than-stellar set one night, Shithead coaxed Biscuits and guitarist Randy Rampage back into the fold and the group set out to "conquer the world as a four-piece". This of course would mean graduating, even if just temporarily, from the lowly seven-inch to the more respected 12" format.

Despite the DIY nature of Something Better Change (3000 copies on the tiny Friends label), it would soon vault the band to the top of the North American punk heap - no surprise there as the bulk of it had been performed and practised hundreds of times before being set to tape. On classics like 'The Enemy' and 'World War 3', the guitars ring out with tautness worthy of Strummer and Jones, while the band's explosive second single 'The Prisoner' is still as frenetic as ever - you can literally picture Shithead's head bobbing back and forth with his typical manic intensity.

Still, stardom was a long way off for D.O.A. Barely two days after the tracks were recorded, the boys hit the road for an extended tour. "(It) started in Madison, Wisconsin, so we drove straight for two days and made the show with fifteen minutes to spare. It was July and as humid as fuck." And as if that wasn't enough, the band - in true punk fashion - nearly self-destructed again with hijinks worthy of Bruce MacDonald's cool 1996 mockumentary, Hardcore Logo. "Tempers were almost as short as the money. The manager fought the roadie, the roadie fought the drummer (and they were brothers), the bassist fought the manager, and the roadie fought the bassist. I just called them all fuckin' idiots."

(After years of only being available chopped up as part of a compilation with the follow-up Hardcore '81, Something Better Change was finally given the proper reissue treatment - remastered on CD and vinyl - by the good folks over at Sudden Death. Enjoy.)

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