.The Avengers at the Ritz

SF punk originators return to the Ritz

“I think almost every single time we play, someone comes up to me and says, ‘I started a band because of you,’ or ‘Your music saved my life,’’ Penelope Houston says with an air of humility. “It feels good to know how many people we’ve influenced.” 

Ok, that might not be a normal thing for a retired librarian to say. Then again, Houston is no normal retired librarian. For a brief two years between 1977 and 1979 she was the frontwoman for one of San Francisco’s first punk bands, The Avengers.

During those two years she and her fellow bandmates carved their place in the halls of punk history. On Thursday, January 11 they return to the South Bay for a heavy lined show with Kid Congo Powers & the Pink Monkey Birds and fellow San Francisco early punks, Frightwig. 

For anyone on the fence about whether they should go or not, take it straight from Houston. 

“This will be the only show for [San Jose] in 2024,” she admits. “For most places—not San Francisco—we will only play once a year, maybe once every two years.” 

While The Avengers might not be as famous as bands like the Dead Kennedys, they had a pivotal role in influencing artists that would become massive. Billie Joe Armstrong, lead singer and guitar player for Green Day and East Bay native, once called The Avengers “one of the best punk bands” ever. During the 2020 lockdowns, he covered their song, “Corpus Christi” and said it was “one of my all time [sic] favorite songs.” 

In 2006, Houston and fellow founding member and guitar player, Greg Ingraham, were invited to sing The Avengers’ most famous song, “American in Me” with Pearl Jam, appropriately, at the Bill Graham Civic Center. 

When The Avengers formed in 1977, Houston was a 19-year-old student at the San Francisco Art Institute whose musical palate favored folk over rock. However, the first wave of American punk would change all that. 

“I fell in love with [Patti Smith’s] Horses and listened to it a lot,” she remembers. “That was the thing that made me think, ‘You just get up there and do it.’”

Houston says back then most of the local venues did not host punk shows, so much of the scene would happen after 11pm at the legendary Mabuhay Gardens. In fact, The Avengers’ first show was at Mabuhay Gardens for an afterparty celebrating fellow San Francisco punks, The Nuns, big break opening for Bryan Ferry at Bill Graham’s Winterland Ballroom. 

“It was a trial for us and somehow we managed to pass it,” she laughs. “Very, very rarely does anyone say they saw the first show, but plenty of people say they saw us at the Mabuhay.” 

They had their own big break at Winterland on January 14, 1978, when The Avengers opened for the Sex Pistols at the later band’s infamous final show. 

“That was the biggest show they had ever played and certainly the biggest we ever played as well,” Houston says. “When you look it up on YouTube you can hear the tremble in my voice.” 

When the band imploded in 1979 they only had released one record, a three-song EP titled We Are The One. It wasn’t until later that year that their self-titled, second EP was released. In 1983 the first full-length Avengers record dropped, a self-titled album now referred to as “The Pink Album” because of its cover.

During her time after the band, Houston continued to play and record as a solo artist and is credited as one of the founders of San Francisco’s Neo-Folk movement of the mid-1980s. As a librarian, she founded the San Francisco Punk Archives at the San Francisco Library History Center. It’s the largest collection of San Francisco punk history documenting the scene from 1975 to the mid 1980s through countless fliers, zines and photographs. 

In 1999, Houston and Ingraham reunited to reform the band with a new rhythm section that would continue to play on and off throughout the years. However, Houston’s retirement during the 2020 lockdowns gave The Avengers the opportunity to tour more, and they have. Along with a Japanese tour with Channel 3 last year, the band hits both coasts frequently. 

“I have two lineups for the band, East Coast and West Coast,” she laughs. 

Along with Houston and Ingraham, the West Coast lineup that will perform next Thursday includes Hector Penalosa (The Zeros) on bass and Dave Bach (The Afflicted) on drums. 

Just don’t wait around for new Avengers’ tracks anytime soon. Houston says the original songs were written as a whole band and sadly bassist Jimmy Wisely passed away in 2018, and their drummer—Danny Furious—moved to Sweden years ago. 

“If Greg and I wrote songs now, would it really be The Avengers?” she ponders. “I’m not sure.”

The Avengers

Thurs, Jan. 11

7pm, $20

The Ritz, San Jose


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