Suicide — the New York aggro-throb duo of singer Alan Vega and keyboardist Martin Rev — “was always about life,” Vega told me in 1985. “But we couldn’t call it Life. We never would have gotten a gig. So we called it Suicide, because we wanted to recognize life.” Performing and recording at a quixotic pace since 1972, Suicide are celebrating two endurance records — Vega recently turned 70 (not 60 as some sources claim); Suicide, the pair’s debut album and the closest thing you will hear to an electronic Stooges, was released 31 years ago — and, as presents, they’re getting the box-set and tribute treatment. Live 1977-1978 (Blast First Petite) is six CDs of combat rock: Vega and Rev under fire (boos and worse) as they polarized audiences in clubs and opening in Europe for the Clash and Elvis Costello. These field recordings are not for novices. Start with the kamikaze minimalism of Suicide and the chrome noir of the duo’s 1980 album, also called Suicide and produced by the Cars’ Ric Ocasek. But Live‘s wartime tears through “Ghost Rider,” “Rocket USA” and the tenement-murder epic “Frankie Teardrop” are vintage evidence of the way Suicide directly assaulted punk orthodoxy with their street parables and shotgun union of Rev’s curdled-Terry Riley organ and Vega’s super-Iggy Pop yowl, steeped in Sun Records slapback.
The first shot in Blast First Petite’s ambitious series of tribute EPs — sold digitally and on limited vinyl, each with a distinguished artist’s cover, a rare Suicide track and a remix — is a triumph. Longtime fan Bruce Springsteen makes E Street theater of the hypnotic ballad “Dream Baby Dream” with a gritty, soaring vocal over oceanic harmonium, live on his 2005 solo tour. The crusty-glam version of “Shadazz” by British band the Horrors has a different kick, reminding me of a great early-Eighties tape I’ve got of Vega and the Cars jamming live in a studio. Imminent EPs feature Primal Scream turning the harrowing disco of “Diamonds, Fur Coats, Champagne” into a Glitter Band-style march and Lydia Lunch, who prowled the same New York clubs as Suicide in the Seventies, singing and scatting “Frankie Teardrop” like an avenging Shangri-La. Other disciples on deck include Spiritualized, the heavy-drone band Sunn 0))) and English psychedelic druid Julian Cope, who plans a treatment of the haunting “Girl” from 1977’s Suicide — with a string quartet. I can’t wait.