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La Peste 

Rare Grooves

Adopting its name from the Camus novel The Plague, Boston's La Peste, in its original incarnation, operated for a mere three years. But if you ask anyone who was on the Beantown scene circa 1977-79, they'll single out the trio as the first true Boston punk band. Not a small distinction -- captured on new reissue Better Off La Peste (Bacchus Archives/Dionysus).

La Peste was immensely popular locally and even had head Car Ric Ocasek produce some demos but, unable to land a record deal, never broke nationally. Just the same, the band's lone 45 single, "Better Off Dead" (1978), is a tuneful slab of Heartbreakers/Buzzcocks punk whose visceral, anthemic wallop hasn't been diminished by time. Its B-side, the Wire-like "Black," is nearly as enticing.

Better Off La Peste overlaps slightly with Matador's 1996 live/studio collection, La Peste (both contain the single). Otherwise, it's a must-purchase for fans, with obvious highlights being a 12-song brace of demos, notably the jittery, powerpoppy "Skin Tight" and a bizarre marriage of Modern Lovers and the Clash called "The Road." Also present are a dozen live tracks of surprisingly good sound quality (though not as pristine as those on the Matador set).

Writes singer/guitarist Peter Dayton (who left the band in 1979 to go solo) in the booklet liner notes: "I'd been living on a diet of Bowie, Roxy Music and stuff like Silverhead and Golden Earring for a few years, but everything changed when I heard the Ramones. I had to get involved." Indeed, with the Ramones' first album as punk's preemptive volley across the bow of '70s dinosaur rock, everything changed in a lot of places. La Peste's tenure may have been brief, but the group inspired scores of other musicians to form bands -- unquestionably part of a rock & roll plague.

For overviews of the band, go to www.rockinboston.com/lapeste.htm and www.geocities.com/nemsbook/l/lapeste.htm.

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