DVD Review: SVT – The Price of Sex

SVT is one of the coolest bands you’ve likely never heard of. Led by singer, songwriter and guitarist Brian Marnell, this San Francisco-based band had talent to burn, combining musical muscle with sharp songwriting. But the group didn’t last long, and their recorded output was limited to a couple of singles, and EP and one long-playing album.

If you do know about the group – nominally power pop but decidedly on the high energy end of that spectrum, in a place where groups like Cheap Trick operate – you know that their bass player was one Jack Casady. Far better known as the bassist with Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, Casady lent gravitas to this late ‘70s / early ‘80s group. He added a thunderous bottom end as well.

The story of SVT is detailed in my latest book, Disturbing the Peace: 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave. And a new DVD release, The Price of Sex adds to SVT’s body of work. Featuring a number of music videos – hey, this was just before the dawn of MTV, after all – it shows the group in all its glory.

SVT was the group named most often when I asked interviewees for the book which 415 act was most deserving of greater success than they achieved. But until now, the available evidence to support the assertion of the those-who-were-there has been thin: Though excellent, the band’s 415 release Extended Play has something of a thin sound (for reasons outlined in the book). And their later album for another label is good, but also fails somehow to convey greatness.

By contrast, these music videos from 1980 do just that. The group is simply on fire as the four musicians sink their teeth into the material. To be sure, everything about the visuals — the clothing, the instruments, the production values, the dated special effects, the 4:3 aspect ratio – screams “early ‘80s.” But the power, precision and intensity of the songs comes through loud and clear.

Even the performance of “Heart of Stone” (a 415-era single) has more spirit and energy than its official counterpart. The music videos look and sound like documents of live-in-the-studio performances, and the immediacy that comes across is a key to the quality of the collection.

The band had more material than it would capture on two singles, Extended Play and No Regrets. And while its questionable use of Nazi imagery in the otherwise-unheard “Rock Reich” is unfortunate, the song itself is on fire. The performances by the quartet – Marnell and Casady plus versatile keyboardist Nick Buck and mighty drummer Paul Zahl – make a compelling case for SVT as one of the new wave era’s lost treasures.

A pair of live clips round out this new collection from Liberation Hall and authorized by the surviving members of the band. An incendiary cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Come On Everybody” blows away the Sex Pistols’ version, and the otherwise-unheard “How Could You Ever” is blistering as well. The live cuts date from before Zahl took over the drum seat from Bill Gibson.

Packaging is minimal, and at least one bit of provided information is incorrect: the back cover indicates a runtime of 72 minutes. The truth is much closer to 30 minutes. But where The Price of Sex and SVT are concerned, quality wins out over quantity.