I rather suspect that Pentagram main man Bobby Liebling has spent long decades contemplating that fellow with the toasting fork up close, real close. There was a reason for that.
I had heard of Pentagram, they were a name that rock journos occasionally dropped usually saying something like ‘America’s answer to Black Sabbath’, but I could never seem to find anything by them. There was a reason for that.
Checking through the rather splendidly comprehensive sleeve notes on Pentagram First Daze Here (The Vintage Collection), it is plain to see that Pentagram could almost rival the Fall, or Hawkwind in terms of the sheer number of ex-members who have passed through their ranks. There was a reason for that.
More to the whole point of everything, Pentagram were a damn fine band. Check out ‘Forever My Queen’ and relish that damnably doomed downer rock – you can almost hear the fringed leather jackets on this one, amongst the persistent vocals and the great guitar flourishes. Or just slap on ’20 Buck Spin’ if you want to hear just how a truly great guitar freak out can rescue a standard boogie tune. Or just sit there stupefied by 1537-top-10-song-titles-ever qualified ‘Livin In A Ram’s Head’. This stuff should be everywhere. It isn’t. There was a reason for that.
Formed in 1972, Pentagram had a great name, a great guitarist (take a bow Vincent McAllister), a gnarly Quaalude sound, some excellent songs and a shit ton of attitude; everything seemed primed for blast off. So why did Pentagram, their first LP, take 13 years to limp out and even then only on a self-released basis?
Enter Bobby Liebling, the singer, writer and mainstay of Pentagram. Charismatic vocalist, decent lyricist and freaky-lookin’ dude extraordinaire. Great stuff, eh? every band should have one, surely? Perhaps the first scene of the brilliant documentary Last Days Here might shed some light on matters, give us the reasons? We first meet Bobby Liebling aged 50-something, looking like a dead man, smoking crack in his parents’ filthy sub-basement. Imagine Ozzy Osbourne if Sabbath hadn’t ever taken off and you’re pretty much there. Oh, that’s why.
The documentary charts various attempts to raise Liebling from his narcotic daze and resurrect his band’s career, securing their legacy to boot. All this in the face of some pretty concerted attempts at self-sabotage by the man himself. Spoiler alert: a fragile peace reigns in the end, with Bobby domesticated, married and a father.
Except that isn’t really it, Liebling was sentenced to 18 months by a Maryland court for assault and neglect of an adult custodian believed to be his 87-year-old mother; a lady whom it should be said is nothing but lovely and supportive of her ‘difficult’ son in the aforementioned documentary. Anvil: The Story Of Anvil, this is not. I am trying hard not to let this fact taint the music for me.
Let it be said that First Daze Here has some absolutely first class music on it, a fact that is amazing given that it is essentially the product of a bunch of early 70’s studio demos, the bulk of which hail from 1973. The sound quality is, mostly, excellent which is a real tribute to the team from Relapse Records that archaeologisted this release.
What becomes pretty clear, pretty fast is that Pentagram were originally a heavy rock outfit, rather than the proto metal doom dudes they became later. Tracks like ‘Last Days Here’ owe infinitely more to Hendrix and Cream than a certain bunch of brummies, it’s a great little tune too with some wonderful flowering guitar. Ditto the ominous/excellent ‘Be Forewarned’ where Pentagram spark up their inner Crazy World Of Arthur Brown.
The real star of First Daze Here for me though is drummer Geoff O’Keefe and not necessarily because of his drumming either*. No, Geoff penned the sleeve and liner notes, which were expanded and revised in 2015 for the version I have. He sets out the band’s history nobly and graciously paying tribute to the fallen members of the Pentagram battalion and to his school friend Mr Liebling too.
Then it gets a bit spicy.
Notes from ‘Walk In The Blue Light’ after faintly praising the track: ‘Truth be told this is not one of my favourite Bobby songs … it’s really, really long and repetitive and never really catches fire. It should be noted here that Bobby put First Daze Here together with (manager) Pellet and selected all the tracks without input or consultation from any other members’. So there.
Then O’Keefe gets cross about Bobby altering the mixes of several tracks used, adding or taking away bits and calls them, parenthesis very much engaged, ‘enhancements’. It’s all splendid fun and O’Keefe clearly enjoys getting his say in print/putting the boot in, gently.
But sleevenote fetishists like me aside, First Daze Here is a worthy addition to any historically minded rocker’s shelves. Just, umm, spin ’20 Buck Spin’ again on your spinny thing and try not to air guitar along, I dare ya. But let’s have some more Geoff:
‘Listening to these recordings some forty plus years later, it reaffirms that we were a great band. One can only ponder how our musical paths and careers would have changed if we’d only gotten a tenth of the acclaim back then that these recordings get now … ‘.
Is it appropriate to say ‘Amen’ in a Pentagram?
*not that there’s a Goddamn thing wrong with that either.