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By Phil Hall | October 24, 2004

During the late 1970s, the L.A. group The Screamers were among the early players in the first wave of punk rock. While The Screamers made a film (the barely-seen yet astonishing 1986 musical Population: 1), the group oddly never made it into a recording studio. No album or 45 rpm singles of their music was ever produced, although a few amateurish music videos were shot.

Yet over time, The Screamers established something of a cult following among those who recalled their frenetic performances, especially the antics of lead singer Tomata DuPlenty. A video of a 1978 club date in San Francisco recently surfaced as the DVD with the somewhat overlong title “The Screamers: Live in San Francisco Sept 2nd 1978.” This rare record can provide an idea of what The Screamers were all about.

The performance itself is not exactly polished, nor is the video production. Music feedback screeches out of microphones at times, the camera occasionally falls slightly out of focus, and at one point a displeased audience member took advantage of a performance pause to bellow out “You suck!” at The Screamers.

As for DuPlenty, he often seemed to be doing a second-rate Mick Jagger imitation in his strutting and posing (which is limited by the handkerchief-sized stage he is performing upon). But his scrawny body was not as flexible as Sir Mick’s, and his voice seemed more like a hoarse rant which rendered a lot of the lyrics unintelligible. But then again, no one in punk rock ever aspired to sound like Nat King Cole.

As early punk goes, The Screamers were fun and vibrant. The music possessed a raw, visceral energy and DuPlenty was adept at cracking rude jokes (he introduces the song “Magazine Love” by noting it will appeal only to those who read). I have no idea why they never recorded, which is a shame since it is possible they could’ve reached a wider punk-loving audience beyond their small, devoted cult base.

DuPlenty was 30 when this concert took place. He subsequently dropped out of music and became fairly well known as a painter. He died in 2000 from cancer and his passing was barely acknowledged by the music industry. “The Screamers: Live in San Francisco Sept 2nd 1978” is the ultimate what-could’ve-been concert video.

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