Get Smart! – Action Reaction (Fever Records) 1984. Get Smart! was a super-cool band from Lawrence KS who, along with the Micronotz and the Embarrassment, formed the holy trinity of Lawrence KS bands. I first heard them on my local college radio station KCFV, which in a moment of clarity decided to quit playing Ultravox and Depeche Mode and instead popped on “They Walk in Pairs” one afternoon. I believe I had just got home from school. I heard it and was floored.
I bought the album action reaction shortly after that and my initial reaction was that they sounded very much like Pink Flag-era Wire. Especially on songs like “On and On”. I can still hear it. “Ankle Deep In Mud” is like “Reuters” for instance. But, like a lot of things I have talked about on Last Days, Get Smart! came to their art and music from a place they referred to as “Berlin on the Plains” and that made it all the more interesting to me. Bassist and co-singer, Lisa Wertman sums up a lot of what I talk about on here:
The music that was on American radio and in the public consciousness in the late 70s and early 80s just wasn’t what was in our heads. We were too nervous, too excited and too creative to let Foreigner and Journey be our musical wallpaper. I didn’t know what David Byrne was going on about in “Psycho Killer”, but I knew that it was exactly what I wanted to hear. The handful of American (and scores of British) acts that were taking chances at the time were what we lived for. And we were determined to further the cause and fill the air with something exciting. Also, going to college in the middle of Kansas had a way of making you want to do the musical equivalent of farting in church.
I can’t tell ya how many people I annoyed with this LP. My HC Punk buddies didn’t like it cuz it was too unorthodox. The girls I knew didn’t like it because it was too raw. Being a high-school aged Get Smart! fan was a lonely thing to be in 1985!
A lot of the conventions on this album; the jerky rhythms, the jagged guitar chords were all holdovers from post-punk trailblazers like Gang of Four. It was post-punk as filtered thru Midwestern mind-sets much in the same vein as Your Food or The Embarrassment. By the time this album was released, that ship was sailing away on the post-punk sound and was being replaced by the more home-grown and rootsier weirdness of the Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid and the Volcano Suns.
Today, post-punk is all the rage, so really action reaction is ripe for re-discovery. There was a 7 inch EP before this called Words Move. I would love to hear it. Shortly, after the release of this album, Get Smart! moved to Chicago where they released their second LP Swimming With Sharks which was good but not as good as Action Reaction. After that they broke up. Where are they now? Lisa Wertman (singer and bassist) is still around Chicago. Marc Koch is back in Kansas and plays in Cryin Out Loud, “an eastern Kansas area band that has been playing its own blend of swingin’ twanged-out garagabilly honkytonkification for a handful of years now”. I dunno what happened to Frank Loose, but he was an insane drummer.