I know it might be a hard concept to wrap your head around, what with the über-shitty parts of their discography choking the sub-$1 CD bins of any given record store, but Urge Overkill were once a very good band. Some might even say they were a "great" band.
I got turned onto Urge Overkill in 1989 when I was in college in York, Pennsylvania. I got to see them shortly thereafter at the DC Space with (I’m guessing) Arcwelder and Flour. All I remember is that they were awesome. Really great.
Then I moved to Pittsburgh in 1990. And man, was I a lucky boy. I got to see UO play 4 times in a year as I witnessed what would become their masterpiece, Supersonic Storybook, come to life in sparsely attended shows at the Upstage Lounge. Their schtick which would eventually become cringeworthy had yet to be run into the ground. Crush velvet jackets, medallions and sunglasses were their uniform. And for 1990? 1991? That was pretty damned spiffy. I gotta say, I played those Touch & Go albums into dust. And I’m not ashamed of that.
Then there was their masterpiece single (if there ever was such a thing) for the Sub Pop Singles Club. Perfection. And I mean that honestly. "What’s This Generation Coming To?" was 15 years ahead of the curve talking about how vinyl was the superior format. And "That’s The Barclords" was just a glimmer of what their schtick was all about. Both sides had absolutely flawless jams and perfect production. Even now, in 2009, it’s perfect. I love that damned single.
The Stull EP on T&G featured the Sub Pop single and a few other tracks including both an Alan Milman Sect and a Neil Diamond cover. Kinda "eh" but they can’t all be winners, right?
Well, the Neil Diamond cover ("Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon") went batshit nuts for the band thanks to ‘Pulp Fiction,’ and the rest is history. The band got signed to a major during the early ’90s feeding frenzy and ended up on Geffen due in large part to their perfect timing opening for Nirvana on that fall ’91 tour when "Smells Like Teen Spirit" broke. Good for them.
"Saturation" was their first for Geffen and was kinda incredible. I mean, at least I thought so. However, I went to see them perform at the Masquerade in the fall of ’93 and that’s when I turned my back on UO for quite a while. The Pain Teens opened and were quite awesome, but UO took their sweet time changing over and (no joke) 90 minutes later they went on and just sucked. Flat out. I seem to remember them being a five piece by then (a painfully obvious session musician was on bass) and walked out and drove back to Athens quickly after they started. I’d had enough.
I ignored UO for the rest of their stay on Geffen. They turned into a farce and I just didn’t want to think of this band I once worshipped as being anything other than completely incredible. It’s a pity because, as I said, they once were a really great band.
Before their releases on Touch & Go, however, they put out the "Strange, I" EP on Steve Albini’s Ruthless Records in 1985. Nash Kato (nee Nathan Kaatrud) was his roommate at the time, so it seemed like they were all thick as thieves. One thing just stands out in my mind when I think of Nate Kato. He was an incredible typographer. I still see this "Strange, I"s artwork and think "damn, this is REALLY great!" Part of it is obviously Albini, but the type is all Nate. Really beautifully done. And there’s a lot of bands at the time who used his type stylings (Pussy Galore’s the first that pops into my mind) but it’s a pity that he’s rarely remembered as a designer.
One last thing, Albini was a very vocal supporter of Urge until about the time they jumped ship from T&G. I’m sure there’s a good juicy piece of drama surrounding that, but Steve was quoted as saying something to the effect that Urge would be hustling blow jobs for change at the bus stop in no time. There’s also the rumor that Steve was planting cassette tapes of Warrant (at least that’s what I remember) at the Lounge Ax with a sticker on it saying "new Urge Overkill demo"….. Does anybody have a better recollection of this? I’d hate to be wrong on this, but regardless, it’s still funny.
Also, I think there needs to be a rediscovery of Urge’s discography on Touch & Go primarily because much of it was poorly mastered to CD and never redone which sucks. The vinyl still sounds astounding, but any schlub who buys their records digitally will be terribly disappointed.
I’m including the 5 tracks from the "Strange, I" EP here because I never seem to be able to find anybody that recollects this record in the least. Sure, it has a VERY Chicago sound. A very close neighbor to Big Black and Naked Raygun, but I’d almost venture to say they sound similar to Dekalb’s Blatant Dissent as well. But maybe that’s just me.
Be sure to check out this embedded video interview which is sort of retarded, but also this video of "Ticket to LA" that I can’t embed but absolutely rules.
Urge Overkill – All Worked Out
Urge Overkill – Art of Man
Urge Overkill – My New Church
Urge Overkill – Snakemobile
Urge Overkill – Systems