Circle Jerks - Live at the House of Blues [12-inch] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Circle Jerks

Live at the House of Blues [12-inch] (2014)

Kung Fu Records

As even the Circle Jerks themselves admitted on their My Life as a Jerk DVD, the banded started out with a bang, releasing a 1-2-3 combo of pure classics. But then, the three follow up records didn’t quite pack the punch of that 80-83 classic run. That’s not to say that Wonderful, VI, and Oddities didn’t have classics. It’s just that they didn’t rip by in the blink of an eye like Group Sex or “Jerks on 45.”

But, quite paradoxically, while the second half of the band’s discography isn’t as strong as the first, the entire time, the band grew stronger and stronger as a live act. So much so, that many people consider 1992’s Gig not only the definitive Circle Jerks release, but the definitive punk rock live album.

And then along comes Live at the House of Blues which shows that the band’s trend of getting better live didn’t end at Gig. Recorded in 2004 (and previously released as a live DVD) Live at the House of Blues shows that somehow, the band was at its live best as it was grinding to a halt.

Vocalist Keith Morris is in top form. His jagged voice accentuates the barbed lyrics as he shifts between a nihilistic teenager on tracks like “Beat Me Senseless,” an agit-prop punk on “Deny Everything” and a sort of worldly philosopher on “Stars and Stripes.” Somehow, despite that the recording dates a quarter century after the Circle Jerks formed, Morris is as fiery as ever and for the most part, sounds like he just wrote these lyrics yesterday.

Likewise, guitar Greg Hetson betrays his first (or second) West Coast punk pedigree. Although the arrangements are fairly faithful to the studio recording, Hetson plays it face and loose, sacrificing specificity for energy. A lot of the early punkers have focused on getting the music “just right” as their skill improves. That’s not to say that Hetson hasn’t progressed his skill, but here, he understands that the main well of the Circle Jerks power is wild, slashing guitar lines and he nails it. Bassist Zander Schloss keeps the low end heavy (in fact, heavier than the studio versions) which gives the songs some real muscle live. Mirroring Hetson’s wanton approach, Kein Fitzgerald really keeps these tunes moving along and really, that might be why these tunes rock so hard.

As is his style, Morris can’t resist engaging the audience. You can hear how frustrated he gets when he tries to explain punk rock history to the audience and one “fan” shouts back “just play some music!” Much like a stand-up comic, Morris immediately zeroes in on the loudmouth and begins to question berate him to see of he has a curfew. One wonders if Morris is having fun on this release (it sounds like it during the songs themselves) and just gets annoyed when people aren’t interested in what he has to say, or of he’s always annoyed, or of he’s having fun when he’s annoyed. Also, his routine on vasectomies is hilarious

The real treat of this record is the encore. Kicking off with a bit of punk history, the band covers "Solitary Confinement" by the Weirdoes, who are perhaps the first LA punk band. Next, the Black Flag/Jerks combo tune “Wasted,” gets a hyper-rendition. Then, they roll right into “Red Tape” before smashing out a “cover” of Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown,” making this the only official live recording of Morris performing what might be the greatest song ever written. And you know what? Ir’s every bit as great as you would think it would be.
(Also, is this a way of connecting the thematic influence of "Nervous Breakdown" to "Solitary Confinement?")

Even though this release previously existed as a DVD, an audio version is a much needed addition. You might watch a live DVD 2 or 3 times, but live albums have nearly unlimited replay. (It doesn’t hurt that the package is very nicely put together, with thick vinyl, chunky sleeves, and a download card). This concert was long overdue for its beatification. If one release should stand to represent the Circle Jerks for future generations, Live at the House of Blues is a fitting monument.

Circle Jerks: Live At The House Of Blues by Circle Jerks