As punk icons grow older, they tend to subdue the snarling, snapping music that originally brought them notice and begin to create more subtle, reserved music. Joe Strummer, Ian Mackaye, John Lydon, and even quintessential punk rocker Joey Ramone all created slower, more delicate music after the demise of the bands which set them on their pedestals. That’s not to say that these later offering are somehow less “punk” than the earlier cuts. Rather, as punk heros mature, they tend to feel the need to try different types of music, experimenting with acoustic sounds, world music and even techno beats. But, what happens when the aging punk hero refuses to allow his spirit to age with his body? The answer is the continual existence of the Circle Jerks. What happens when this type of band continues to play live dates? An interesting reaction is created, as was seen at the Circle Jerks show at Philadelphia’s Trocadero on October 17, 2006.
Composed of singer Keith Morris (ex-Black Flag), guitarist Greg Hetson (currently also in Bad Religion), Zander Schloss (currently also in the Weirdos) and a relatively new drummer, the Jerks exploded on stage, but failed to even singe the audience. Musically, the band was as tight as ever, ripping through about 20 Circle Jerks songs, with an emphasis on the early catalogue. With little dialogue between each song, Keith Morris hissed and barked and growled and snarled with even more venom than on the albums. With the dreadlocked singer approaching 50 and ailing from diabetes, that is certainly an accomplishment. Defying their ages, the band played with as much energy as they did 20 years ago on "The Decline of Western Civilization." The encore was a special treat as the band ripped through Black Flag’s "Revenge" and "Gimme Gimme Gimmie," both co-penned by Morris and Black Flag guitarist, Greg Ginn.
So, if the band was fiery on stage, why did they fail to ignite the crowd? Even Keith Morris recognized the lack of audience energy, as about halfway through the set, he went off on a diatribe about how the place “had no vibe” and that he felt like he was “driving a car but not going anywhere.” He then continued to apologize to the crowd stating that the lack of chemistry wasn’t their fault. The crowd itself hardly moved during any of the songs, with a few people moshing and others just watching. The music was good. The performances were good. But still, the crowd seemed unimpressed by one of the founders of hardcore punk.
One reason that may explain the crowd’s disinterest was that the show itself was billed as a Pennywise show, with Circle Jerks opening. There had also been two bands before the Jerks. So, if the majority of the crowd was there to see Pennywise, perhaps they didn’t know who the Circle Jerks were and what made them special. Perhaps, the crowd thought that the Jerks were just a bunch of 45-year-old guys jumping around the stage. Still, bands like Pennywise have founded their sound on groundbreaking punk acts like Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Red Kross and the Germs. If this was the case, and the crowd didn’t know who the jerks were, then it is very strange. This equates as going to see the Rolling Stones and failing to be impressed by opener Chuck Berry.
Maybe this is the reason that most punk icons change their music as they grow. They felt the need to change with their audience. When Clash fans grow old, maybe they enjoy more poetical music, so Joe Strummer changed his sound to keep his audience. Maybe since the Circle Jerks play their music as loud, fast and fierce as 1980, their core fans have matured past this type of music. Conversely, younger fans possibly would rather see younger people playing punk as opposed to an old guy with really, really long dreadlocks.
This is a shame as younger fans still have a chance to see living legends play some darn good tunes. Mountains of praise are heaped upon Joe Strummer, Joey Ramone, and Darby Crash. But, they’re all dead. They were/are wonderful, but they’re not around to appreciate the accolades. The Circle Jerks are still alive and putting on a great show, so it would be nice if this preoccupation with death could be dropped and appreciation could be given to those who are still around to enjoy it.
Well, Mr. Morris, Mr. Schloss, and Mr. Hetso , if you’re reading this, I want you to know that even though most people at the Philly show didn’t get revved up, I though you were wonderful and you sure made my day. So, let’s have a Circle Jerks headlining tour. This way, the people coming to the show will know that they are in the presence of hardcore’s founding fathers and not just some guys with receding hairlines and penchants for short songs.
P.S. I ran into Zander Schloss after the show. I asked, “What are the chances for a new album?” He said, “Really good. We’re writing new material right now.” Kick-ass.