For whatever reason, you don't see a lot of records by the Dils up here. The people in Vancouver who know and love them (I think) are the people here who saw them live, knew them personally, made music with them when they played up here, or hung out with them at the Buddha or such during their window of initial activity, between 1976 and 1980: fans and musicians of first generation Vancouver punk, who are probably the only people in town who actually have their (count'em, three) singles - which they've hung onto, apparently, because you don't see them around very often.
By contrast, people who came late to the game - like, uh, me, discovering punk at age 14 in 1982, when some of the best "first wave" Vancouver bands had already folded - likely heard of the Dils for the first time via the DOA cover of "Class War" (Dils version here). We did not have the opportunity to see the Dils during that initial burst and were never going to catch up based on their recorded output, since we would simply never cross paths with Dils' records, new, used, or otherwise. Eventually a few comps and live albums surfaced, beginning in 1987, but even these didn't show up all that often. I would have bought anything by them that I stumbled across, based on that DOA cover. Back in the days before the internet, following the thread from the cover to the original was one of the ways you learned things, got into different bands. But the opportunity never presented itself, and eventually I gave up.
Dils L-to-R: Zippy Pinhead, Chip Kinman, Tony Kinman, photo by bev davies, Smilin' Buddha, Nov. 24 1979
Ashamed to say, it wasn't until after Tony Kinman's death in 2018 that I decided to finally play catchup; Bev Davies had mentioned "The Sound of the Rain" as a favourite Dils song of hers, and maybe she had clued me in to "It's Not Worth It," as well - both released on a 7" called Made in Canada, featuring late Vancouver legend Zippy Pinhead - AKA Bill Chobotar - on drums. I heard these songs on Youtube and suddenly I felt I understood the Dils' reputation. These were great songs!
Still couldn't find their records in stores, but now I was back to looking. It was nothing too focused, jut a peek in the misc. D punk section at the stores I perused... never any Dils (maybe if I'd looked in the 7 inches...?).
Flash forward to the Rickshaw, August 2019, when a version of the Dils featuring Chip Kinman as the only original member played Vancouver, actually opening for Montreal band Three O'Clock Train, who were playing songs by the Dils, Rank and File, and other Kinman-related projects - Blackbird, Ford Madox Ford, I've forgotten exactly, but Chip joined them on stage for a few songs (which I shot video of here. Hey, that's Ferdy Belland on bass, and is that Brad of GRRL Circus on drums?!). There were some very well-respected Vancouver punks in attendance. I recall giving a wave to John Armstrong; Bev Davies was there; and a spiffily-dressed Ron Reyes joined the band onstage (I remember him doin' a little country-style dance across the stage to "Amanda Ruth;" sadly, Bev's photos don't reveal whether he was wearing cowboy boots, but he might have been. I kinda love the idea of Ron Reyes in cowboy boots). Perhaps the paucity of Dils' recordings around town explained why the show was simply not that well-attended, but maybe people were a bit bummed that Zippy had also passed, turning the gig not just into a fundraiser for Tony's widow but a de facto wake for Zippy, as well...? I believe he was supposed to be on drums that night, for at least one of the permutations that played, and Mary of the Modernettes was supposed to be on bass; she also was a no-show, present only on-screen during a sort of making-of video that played...
Tony Kinman by bev davies, not to be reused without permission
There appear to be two current attempts to amend the lack of availability of Dils material around - a 2021 European compilation called Some Things Never Change, which I have not heard, but which apparently combines their released material with demos and live tracks; and a newly-reissued live album from Porterhouse, the expanded 35th anniversary release of a 1987 release on Iloki (or Triple X?) records , with which this review is concerned. The Porterhouse reissue is the more fulsome package. The Euro comp boasts 16 songs in total, whereas - along with new cover art built around the Bev Davies photo at the top of this page - the Porterhouse live album comes with 14 tracks on the vinyl and a bonus CD with ten songs. The press release explains that "9 of those are previously unreleased recordings made at their March 20, 1978 performance for the Miner’s Benefit Show at San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens," whereas the 10th is a jammy, nearly 10-minute cover of the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On," previously issued (I believe it's this version of the song, though the Youtube clip is a few seconds longer) and for reasons unclear not included with the download card (there is, however, a download card with 23 of the 24 songs total).
The press release continues to say that the LP has been resurrected "from the original 1/4" analogue master tapes and given... a complete re-mastering." Porterhouse "are only producing 500 copies of this special collection. The package streams at the Porterhouse website 24/7 and a digital version of Live! Is available from the usual assortment of online music retailers."
Some notes on the actual content of the album... Ten of the songs on the vinyl are taken from a 1980 performance, seven of which are on side one, with Chip and Tony on guitar and bass, respectively (and sharing vocals; not clear who is the lead on what) and John Silvers on drums. "Tell Her I Love Her" and "Tell Me What I Want to Hear" are not too far off, songwriting-wise, from early mid-tempo punk love songs by bands like the Ramones and the Pointed Sticks - not especially thrashy or political, but tuneful and boasting a bit more bite than your standard-issue radio love song. Silvers initially seems to overdo his flourishes on these tracks but calms down and finds the pocket soon enough. These two okay openers are followed by a stunning trifecta of high-energy punk, where the excitement of the gig comes through in spades; for my money these three songs constitute the real meat of the album: "It's Not Worth It" (prefaced by a weird introductory comment from a Kinman that it is the band's "KISS song": what?), "You're Not Blank" (apparently once performed in Cheech and Chong's Up In Smoke, but I don't think I ever knew that; great tune) and "Red Rockers Rule" (usually just given as "Red Rockers"). Track five, "Mr. Big," is a spazzy item that might have a good song in there somewhere, but doesn't really congeal on this performance (also true of the interesting, imperfect side-two closer, an earlier, faster, markedly less anthemic take on "It's Not Worth It" from a gig recorded "circa 1977" with a different drummer, Endre Algover, who is a bit less show-offy than Silvers. There is a similar but more effective early version of it on the Mab CD included, more on which later). Chip's guitar and the brothers' harmonies come through perfectly; less audible on side one is Tony's bass, which, especially listening over my speakers, I was squinting to hear and seldom could (it was a bit easier to pick out on headphones but still, I've heard Glenn Gould hum louder, if you know what I mean). The Buddy Holly cover on side two, "Modern Don Juan," makes the bass a bit more audible (that's a very fun song to include in their set and one of the various places on the album where the eventual move towards Rank and File's roots rock is somewhat prefigured).
Original 1987 cover
The high point on side two is a frenetic version of "Class War" with a different intro from the studio take and an uncredited female vocalist, perhaps an audience member, screaming along. That closes the 1980 recordings, after which the album is rounded out with the four 1977 ones - including a couple of energetic punk songs that I don't actually know so well, "You Can't Shake It" and a song credited as "Baby, You're My Whore" - probably my fave of the songs I didn't know, a sharp-edged rip-snortin' jaggedy-ass rockabillyish tune, that I'm presuming to be the original version of the Dils' own song, "C.A.R." since the music is pretty much the same (the lyrics, insofar as I can make them out, are different). That's followed by "The Expert," which is kinda like "Mr. Big" - might be a good song in there somewhere but it didn't grab me. No idea what the lyrics are about! Overall I'd agree with Richie Unterberger's assessment on Allmusic, reviewing the original audio: "The fidelity, as you might expect, is not top-notch, but gets the job done as far as capturing their adrenaline rush." I would add that the bass is a bit more audible on the four 1977 cuts, but overall the sound quality on those is slightly rougher than the 1980 ones.
I didn't spend as much time on the CD (yet), but there are a few songs not included on the vinyl - "National Guard," "Citizen," "New Kicks," and "I Hate the Rich." The Mab version of "Class War" also begins with that slightly different intro from the studio cut. And as I note above, the version of "It's Not Worth It" is also markedly different from the studio one on Made in Canada (or the live arrangement on side one of the vinyl, which is similar to the 7") but is catchier and more coherent than the closing track on side 2 of the record. It's interesting to hear that the band's catalogue was evolving throughout their four-year original lifespan, that they were revising arrangements, lyrics, what-have-you - though maybe that's what you get when you come to the legacy of a band mostly through their live recordings...?
Overall, it's just good to finally actually have a Dils record! (My first!). I'll be playing side one the most of any of these, for "Sound of the Rain," which only turns up the one time in the whole package. I'd still be tempted if that Euro comp - Some Things Never Change - ended up in front of me at a record store, with the studio versions of three of the tracks Zippy is on, including "Sound of the Rain" - but in the meantime, the Porterhouse Live! reissue is very welcome in my home. I've been curious about the Dils since I bought War on 45, back in 1982, so this is a welcome opportunity to scratch a 40 year itch.
A final note and photo: I never knew Zippy Pinhead well. He made a big impression in Bloodied But Unbowed, of course, but I think I only saw him drum once, to my knowledge, at the Vancouver Complication reunion gig, and I remember Bev once introducing me to him and his wife, whom she called "Mrs. Zippy" (say it aloud) at Richards on Richards (forget who was playing - maybe the Dishrags?). That may be the only time we ever actually spoke, and it was very brief, though I think he shook my hand (I seem to remember his being huge and meaty). Mostly we were total strangers, though. Still, I was sitting at the Fairview with Erika, one night when (I think) the Wett Stilettos and the Furies were playing, and Zippy - whom I'd pointed out to Erika, as I usually did; Zippy's presence was one of those signifiers to me that we were at a good gig - came over to our table carrying two full shot glasses, which he set in front of us, giving that irrepressible smile. It had been some years since Bev had introduced me to him, so I have no idea if he even realized we'd met before. He certainly didn't want anything - just to give us drinks and a smile. Only time, I think, that a stranger, or near-stranger, bought me a drink, apropos of nothin'. I felt really privileged and happy (and enjoyed my drink). Thanks for the memory, Zippy... you did make an impression...
Zippy, Duff McKagan, and Randy Rampage, backstage at Velvet Revolver, 2007, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission
More information on the Dils Live release - also available in a bundle with a Ford Madox Ford record - can be found on the Porterhouse website. Chip Kinman also has a new album of experimental, textural electronica, very different from his previous projects, which can be ordered here; tracks from it are on Youtube.