You always remember the band you saw the night your friend set his pants on fire.
The summer of 1980 was one of extreme decadence for me. I worked on the summer weekly edition of the college newspaper for the first 12 weeks, and after that did some pickup work that didn’t require a lot of responsibility . . . as long as I got it done, it didn’t matter when I did it, which freed me up for a lot of drinking and other bad ideas. One of those bad ideas was a series of summer happy hours at the local student club, the Jabberwocky. While things were generally quiet at our favorite place for live music in the summer months, in that year they put on a program of live shows mixed with happy hours, which just meant the drinking started earlier and went harder, which was a terrible idea indeed.
At one of these live shows was a band from Buffalo, Billy Piranha and the Enemies. We hadn’t seen or heard them before, but as I recall they came on and really commanded the stage, even though it was a late afternoon/early evening show for what must have been a pretty sparse crowd. They were pretty punk rock, but fun, and we were bopping and having a good time.
A preface to this story so it will make sense to the youth of today: people used to smoke in bars and clubs. It seems incredible. In fact, it seems stupid, just from a fire perspective, but it was a normal thing.
A bunch of us were dancing around, pogoing to the band. CB (we’ll call him), as was not uncommon, was dancing with a bottle of beer in his hand and, as was also not uncommon, there was no place to just put it down while he lit a cigarette. So CB became determined to light his cigarette, while dancing, without putting down his beer. To do this, he first maneuvered a cigarette into his mouth, then produced a stick match, which he proceeded to try to light on the zipper of his jeans. Now, this was kind of a stock “cool” move in the ‘70s, but it also wasn’t. And, ideally, it was a move pulled off with two hands — one on the match, the other pulling back the fly of your jeans. But you can’t do that and hold onto your Rolling Rock. So CB tucked the match in under his fly, struck it against the zipper, and, to his surprise and ours, lit his jeans on fire. Not a lot, only for a moment, but he and we stared in amazement as he definitely had, for a few moments, a burning fly. He managed to put it out, I don’t remember how. I believe we took in a Syracuse Chiefs game after that. It was a looooonnnnngg night.
Anyway, Billy Piranha and the Enemies rocked, and at some point that summer I ran across this EP of theirs (just credited as “Enemies”), and even if I hadn’t already seen and enjoyed them, I would have had to have bought this record because I was a bit of a comic book nerd, and the cover is by one of my all-time favorite artists, Gene Colan. That just blew my mind. Mad artists Jack Davis, Don Martin and Mort Drucker, probably among others, had quite a number of record covers, but I couldn’t think of any Marvel artists who did at the time. Colan’s work was beautiful, a complete level above what was normal for superhero books, and his moody pencils perfectly fit books like “Tomb of Dracula.” Pretty remarkable that he did this for an unknown band on a local label — to the point that it made me wonder if he somehow had a connection to the band. Haven’t found any evidence of that. Colan only did one other album cover, according to Discogs: a Rob Zombie record from 1998, which does not look in any way Colanesque.
The only information I could find on the band came from this blog post from 2015 that says that one of the songs from this EP, “Disconnected,” was covered by the Goo Goo Dolls on one of their big records. The record is loud fun with some wailing sax, and it’s nothing I would have picked up if I hadn’t seen them live. This single record refers to them as “Enemies,” “The Enemies,” and “Billy Piranha and the Enemies,” so it seems like they weren’t sticklers about the band’s name.