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Long Live the Degenerates

Fun-loving punks the Spits remind us that you can get older without getting wiser.

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Garage-punk rockers the Spits are known for performing in wild costumes: as cave men, terrorists, even Ronald Reagans.
  • Garage-punk rockers the Spits are known for performing in wild costumes: as cave men, terrorists, even Ronald Reagans.

For a Spits newcomer, there's no finer introduction to the band than "Terrorist Attack." The 2005 song focuses on repetitions of "Terrorist attack! Terrorist attack!" in a blockheaded monotone.

The other lyrics are an incoherent, dilapidated mess, which syncs with the simple, sloppy blasts of junkyard-ready, fuzzy punk running underneath. The music is enjoyable for how remarkably dumb it is, but then the official video for "Terrorist Attack" comes to make it 20 times better.

Ernie Quintero, a friend and former member of the group, placed the track over a montage of grainy clips from the 1982 B-movie "Q: the Winged Serpent." In New York, clearly identified by shots of the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers, the titular reptile swoops down and picks off various civilians: a window washer, a construction worker, a dude in a swimming pool. The special effects are terrible, the acting worse.

Yet the marriage of song and video is simultaneously brain-dead and brilliant. It's a love letter to potentially offensive humor and two forms of low culture, and a wry reflection of America's fear that post-9/11 monsters could swoop in to murder us at any moment. "Of course, it's pretty crazy," feisty guitarist and vocalist Sean Wood says of the video, "so we OKed it."

That blend of the absurd and the subversive matches the Seattle-by-way-of-Kalamazoo, Mich., garage-punk band's grimy, no-sacred-terrain aesthetic. Although the Spits were formed in 1994, brothers and co-founders Sean and Erin Wood trace their musical lineage to the early 1980s, when they started a band as teenagers growing up in and around foster homes.

The lousy quality of the recordings the Spits would come to embrace as a punk group was rooted in choice and necessity alike. "We didn't want to be a big, hi-fi band, but also we liked that shitty punk theme," Sean Wood says, referencing the fundamentally lo-fi "Killed by Death" punk compilations. "Also, we had no goddamn money to go into a studio. I didn't even know what a studio was."

Instead, the Spits originally recorded in Erin Wood's living room in a "weirdo studio apartment." Former drummer Lance Phelps banged on a Muppets-themed toy drum kit with butter knives. "It was really simple, and it sounds shitty and cool, but that's what we had," Sean Wood says. "We didn't really know what the fuck we were doing."

As the years have passed, the band members still don't sound or conduct themselves like serious professionals. Since the beginning, they've been dressing in outlandish costumes for shows — terrorists, doctors, cave men, druids, a group of Ronald Reagans. With their no-budget outfits and recordings, the uncomplicated entertainment of their shows, and how Sean Wood mentions that playing music beats manual labor, the Spits have a blue-collar vibe.

Three-quarters of the band members are in their 40s, but they still attack their instruments like a bunch of kids who don't care. "The Spits will always rule," he says. "You will never get rid of us. We will always be around. Your children's children will be listening to us." S

The Spits will perform with Dry Spell, Tenement and the James Badfellows at on Sunday, Sept. 9, 6 p.m., at Strange Matter, 929 W. Grace St. $10 in advance, $12 at the door. For information, go to strangematterrva.com.

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