Before Goldenvoice promoted mega shows at Coachella, Staples, and Nokia, I knew the promoter’s name from flyers that I’d pick up at Zed Records, which also sold tickets to their shows at like Fender’s, Bogart’s, and the Palladium. Goldenvoice was the first promoter to book punk shows at “real” venues, giving chances to California bands that were treated like threats by the mainstream (Black Flag, Dead Kennedys) as well as touring bands that only got played by Rodney on the Roq (Damned, 999). My dorm rooms were decorated with those flyers, as well as posters for shows like PiL, Siouxsie, and the Jesus & Mary Chain, which also had the logo. This weekend, Goldenvoice honcho Gary Tovar booked three nights at the Santa Monica Civic (scene of early shows by The Clash and The Jam, not to mention Urgh! A Music War) to celebrate 30 years of business but also the roots of L.A. punk.
The weekend kicked off with the Adolescents, who symbolized Goldenvoice’s bringing together of all the different punk scenes. The group from Fullerton (with links to Agent Orange, ADZ, D.I., Legal Weapon, Christian Death, and a ton of other groups) played gigs with Hollywood bands and Bay Area punks, as well as representatives of Nardcore at the earliest Goldenvoice shows, and the punk chorus of “Amoeba” and droning intro to “Kids of the Black Hole” still sound as current as they feel dangerous. From the opener, “No Way,” they totally ripped it up with front man Tony Cadena pacing like a crazy person and Steve Soto smiling for the set’s entirety, anticipating the arrival of Billy Zoom.
I was shocked to find out that X wasn’t headlining. X is the pride, class, and heart of L.A. punk, showing inspiration from East L.A.’s rockabilly past, The Doors, and beatnik poets as well as providing some of the most riveting moments of Penelope Spheeris’ essential punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization (with the Germs and Black Flag). But although their songs provide names for shows at huge museums that book them to play receptions, the band doesn’t look down from the clouds over Mulholland surveying its musical offspring. I’ve recently seen John Doe and Exene play tiny in-stores at Vacation Vinyl promoting newer work, and X actually gave up a headlining show to take part in GV30. Exene (who looks perfect in the thrift-shop clothes that she’s always worn) still sounds amazing, despite being diagnosed somewhat recently with MS, and her harmonizing with John Doe always gives me the chills. And as famously sung by the Chili Peppers, Doe’s voice will always be made of gold. For this set, they ripped through choice cuts from their first four albums: “Nausea,” “Sugarlight,” “We’re Desperate,” “White Girl,” “Breathless” … It turns out “Blue Spark” is about the bumper cars at the Santa Monica Pier and the band still considers Los Angeles its hometown after all these years.
It’s easy to forget that Social Distortion were one Southern California’s first and biggest punk bands, who appeared on key Posh Boy releases, co-starred with Youth Brigade in Another State of Mind, and opened for just about everyone when Mike Ness was out of jail. But I think its admirable how he has evolved the band’s aesthetic into a groove that touches on greasers, gangsters, and Johnny Cash. The band remains huge among multiple generations of chain-wallet wearing cholos and HB surfers–who probably share parent-and-child tattoos–and the sound ages well. In their set, the older songs (“1945,” Justice For All,” “Mommy’s Little Monster“…) that were sprinkled in meshed easily with the newer hits. Their set had the most lights, the only fog machine, and a massive banner, but Ness somehow came across as humble when he described “I Was Wrong” as a song about the one time he made a mistake and honest when he paid tribute to Tovar and Goldenvoice.
I missed Saturday night’s show with Bad Religion, Youth Brigade, and T.S.O.L., but am sure it had the gnarliest pits, most positive vibes, and darkest eyeshadow.
Sunday night’s show came close to capturing the feeling of a punk marathon at Fender’s, with numerous bands that were worthy of headlining on top, a special guest appearance, and all the local bands (and their brothers’) making appearances as well. Love Canal and Shattered Faith played short and sweet sets to open the evening, reminding me of when hardcore wasn’t a sport and goth wasn’t yet a lifestyle.
Ill Repute were awesome, with half of the band still looking exactly like their logo from the ’80s which was proudly displayed on a medium-sized banner. The band’s brand of hardcore before tough guy vocals came to rule the genre sounded super fresh to me. Of course, they sang about Oxnard but they also gave props to the Native Americans, closing the set with a ripping version of “Cherokee Nation,” perhaps as a bookend to the Vandals who would play “Urban Struggle” later on.
I hadn’t seen The Dickies since the ’80s and totally forgot what a great live band they are. Frontman Leonard Graves came out wearing a Santa hat and the band jumped right into a ripping version of “Silent Night.” The funny punk originators played a crowd-pleasing, pit-inspiring balance of hits (“Fan Mail,” “Manny, Moe, and Jack,” “You Drive Me Ape (You Big Gorilla)”) and covers (“Nights in White Satin,” “Gigantor”) with the most props of the night. The penis puppet came out for “If Stuart Could Talk” and their version of “Paranoid” included guest axe by East Bay Ray from the Dead Kennedys.
The Vandals are a well-oiled, ass-kicking, always-pleasing concert machine, having made a rare and graceful transition from the days of the Cuckoo’s Next to the Warped Tour era. But they gladly dusted off the oldies like “Urban Struggle,” “Pat Brown,” “Lady Killer,” and “Anarchy Burger” to play alongside more current favorites like “Ape Drape” and their version of “I Have a Date” for the senior crowd, who figured out the words to “Oi to the World” fairly quickly. And was Josh Freese really playing with a broken foot? Holy crap! Hopefully, some of the Vandals’ old-school fans will give the band’s newer albums a chance because they’re just as stupid and brilliant.
The worst-kept secret of the weekend had to be the reunion of Black Flag members Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, and Bill Stevenson playing the legendary L.A. punk band’s first EP along with Steven Egerton of The Descendents (Stevenson plays in both bands). This is where I break out of reviewing mode and just say, “Fuck yeah!” I never got to see Black Flag, but catch Henry Rollins’ Rise Above in-store at Amoeba and both of Greg Ginn’s benefits for cats at the Palladium. This fills in the blanks nicely. Check out the entire set courtesy of Dave Naz at Vimeo.
What can I say about the Descendents that I didn’t say in April (when they played with Bad Religion and Rise Against) or September (when they played FYF with Kid Dynamite, No Age, and OFF!)? Along with the Ramones, they are the only other band where you are not only allowed to sing along to every song but should be kicked out if you don’t. After seeing them stop playing live shows in the ’80s and then the ’90s, I am compelled to see the Descendents every time because it might be their last. If you don’t know and love “Suburban Home,” “Hope,” “Bikeage,” “Coolidge,” and “Get the Time,” I don’t pity you. I actually envy you for getting to discover join their ultra-caffeinated, supremely humble, and timeless quest for ALL right after you finish reading this post. Some of the crustier members of the audience didn’t know the band’s newer songs, but “Thank You” was a perfect way to end a weekend dedicated to the bands that contributed to L.A.’s punk legacy. Can any other city or scene put together three such nights? As the Adolescents put it: “No way.”
As was often the case at Goldenvoice shows, there were cops stationed in the parking lot after the shows but this time there was no rioting. And everyone was as ugly, bald, and sweaty as the old days at Fender’s or the Olympic but with big grins on their faces and child seats in their cars. Who would have known that the angriest group of outsiders would not only survive but be looked back at as part of a golden age? Who knew that parents would be tossing their kids up in the pit and that the bouncers would be bobbing their heads to The Ramones’ It’s Alive while waiting for X to play? Who cares! Tovar promised more is to come and I’ll see you in front.