Portland, Oregon. Pacific NW underground music.
Band drives stake to heart
by Charles R. Cross
Seattle Post-Intelligencer July 18, 1981
The Untouchables’ lead singer Chris Newman looks anything but the typical pretty boy rock star. Weighing in at well over 200 pounds, Newman sports a girth that makes managers of all-you-can-eat restaurants turn over the closed sign when they see him walk down the street. He has a wild unkempt mop of hair, a 10 o’clock shadow and on stage tonight he’s wearing a greasy black wino’s raincoat.
Newman spends so much of his time sleeping in cars and on the floors of the bars the band plays in, that his personal hygiene habits leave something to be desired. In short, he’s the type of guy that if you saw him walking down an alley, you’d high tail it in the other direction.
But tonight on stage Newman uses his gruesome body to create some of the great gruesome driving rock n’ roll. Backed by the tree other young bad-boy types that make up the Untouchables, Newman breaks into the band’s signature tune “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hell” and all hell breaks loose in Astor Park as the dance floor fills up and the place becomes so hot you could cook hot dogs on the roof. The Untouchables have just begun their set and from the opening riffs of their first song they have the audience riveted to the wall with their driving, highly original new wave rock.
Newman and the other Untouchables look dangerous because they are dangerous – like all great young rock bands they are hungry, driven by passion and possessed of a value system that puts their music above all other considerations. As Newman intensely picks out the cutting chords that are “Rock & Roll Hell” – an instrumental song that sounds like a cross between 999 and U2 – it’s obvious from his involvement with his guitar that anyone who attempted to interfere with his playing would be taking a big risk. Like the early Who, the young Rolling Stones and the many young new wave bands to come out of England in the past few years, the Untouchables demand that their music be heard. Rather than letting their songs soak into the audience, they smack a listener against the wall and proceed to drive their sound into you like a stake through the heart.
They follow up Rock & Roll Hell with a searing set of original songs, all written by Newman. The only unoriginal tune they include is a cover of Lou Reed’s “Waiting For My Man.” It’s a powerful, personal song and not the type of cover most bands play well, but then the Untouchables are not like most bands. The song fits in perfectly with their original tunes of urban blight and rotten romance.
After their set, and the two encore tunes, a magic seems broken in the hall, as if some great sword had been pulled from the stone for a few short minutes and has now been replaced. The Cowboys who are scheduled to follow the Untouchables, wisely wait for almost a half an hour before taking the stage but even then it is the original guts of the Untouchables that ring in my head. No matter how how hard the Cowboys’ lead singer Ian Fisher strains, the Cowboys seem like a typical covers band: One of Seattle’s most successful established bands has just been upstaged by some of the poorest, ugliest, and most talented rock n’ rollers in town.
Part of the reason that other local bands look pale when compared to the Untouchables, is the band’s insistence on playing only original material. Newman has written over 60 songs for the band and he adds new material constantly. In contrast the Cowboys have added only a handful of new songs in their set in the past two years.
After the set Newman describes the drive behind the Untouchables and their dreams of success. “I want our band to progress at a steady rate,” he says, “but I won’t commercialize our music to make it more accessible. People are going to have to accept this band for what it is.”
Though the band sounds like they are destined to break into the national music scene, they are about as alienated from the crass commercialism of bands like the HEats or the Cowboys as ab and can get. In their looks, their attitudes and their songs, they spit in the face of local music convention.
Part of that anti-commerical nature is apparent in their choice for a new name. Untouchables is already owned by several other bands forcing the band into a situation similar to the one that turned the Heaters into the Heats. But rather than stick with a simple and recognizable variable, the Untouchables have chosen the bizarre: They plan to call themselves Napalm Beach in the near future. It’s not the type of name mothers embrace but it bespeaks the Untouchables’ attitude towards commercialism.
“The name kind of fits with some of our songs,” says Newman. I didn’t want some little twinkle name. Some people might think it’s punk but anyone who’s seen a real punk band knows how lightweight we are. Compared to punk bands, we’re like Donny Osmond.”
While the Untouchables have some of the spirit of many punk bands, their sound is closer to a cross between new wave bands like 999 and the raw rock of the Velvet Underground. After seeing the young Irish band U2 earlier this year, the Untouchables invaded the Gorilla Room literally forcing the band that was playing off stage, and proceeded to play until their fingers bled.
The band was formed in Longview two years ago where Newman, guitarist Mark Nelson and drummer A. Chon Carer grew up. Bassist David Minick recently left a successful San Francisco band to move to the Northwest and join up with his old friends.
The band plays out of Portland mostly, though they’ve found Seattle to be their most receptive audience. Whether in Seattle or Portland, however, they have no permanent address since they live on the street or with friends.
At 27, Newman has been living the life of a rock n’ roll vagabond for 15 years. Except for one brief stint with a commercial rock band, he’s allays played in original bands and done most of the songwriting himself.
And if Newman and the other Untouchables look and sound hungry on stage, it may be because many times they are actually hungry. “We’re not really starving, but we are just barely making it, trying to buy food and stuff,” Newman said. “But then this is our entertainment too, it’s our whole life. All I got to do is eat some, sleep some, and play a lot.”
After watching the Cowboys crank out their familiar set, the Untouchables are back out in their natural element, the street, with a grumbling in their stomachs. But that grumbling is what great rock ‘n’ roll is all about: starving while your hunger for music grows every day. If poverty is a prerequisite for passion, the Untouchables create a great passion play every time they take the stage.”
Charles Cross on Portland band the Untouchables, Seattle P.I. July 1981