Agent Orange/Counterpunch - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Agent Orange / Counterpunch

Live in Grand Rapids (2016)

live show

I absolutely love Living In Darkness, Agent Orange’s 1981 debut LP. It’s a punk classic and probably a desert island album for me. I go sing along every time the band comes to town. I’m not even sure how many times I’ve seen them. My normal show partner was busy on Tuesday September 13th, so I brought my daughter Alex Trauma with me to The Stache in downtown Grand Rapids. The Stache is the smaller front room at a club called The Intersection. (On this night, the main room was hosting Sevendust and some other mediocre commercial metal bands.) For those of you keeping track at home, 15 year old Alex has gotten quite a punk education this year. We had already seen TSOL/Scandals and Subhumans/PEARS/Break Anchor. (Also Blink-182/A Day To Remember/All Time Low, but we won’t talk about that.)

Pharoin (pronounced like heroin, not groin, with an f) opened the show. We were a little late, but caught most of their rousing 30 minute set of old school snotty punk. It turns out they’re from Muskegon, MI, not far from the podunk town that we call home. They played a ton of short, fast, obnoxious songs. They also had some bargain basement visual props, which I enjoyed. My favorite was a trash can overflowing with some sort of neon green ooze. They threw rubber Halloween novelty bats with band buttons attached into the crowd. Alex was thrilled to get one. These four guys were a lot of fun and I plan to keep my eye on them. Alex bought a Pharoin T-shirt and I picked up their 2014 CD, Learn or Die!.

Next up was Counterpunch from Chicago. I had heard of them, but wasn’t really familiar with their music at all. I would say they’re a modern take on the classic Epifat style. They sounded like a poppier version of the bands on the bass player’s tattoos and pickguard stickers. We’re talking Pennywise, Bad Religion, Pulley, A Wilhelm Scream and Strung Out. That same bass player had the funniest line of the night when said the Sevendust show looked like “the world’s longest army recruitment video”. They also made hit or miss jokes about Harambe and Flint’s water. Some of the songs were a little too wimpy for my tastes, but others flat out ripped. Not really my style, but not bad.

The crowd was pretty rambunctious all night long. Of course there were the normal 80 or so of us old punks that show up for all the old man punk shows, but there were also a surprising amount of minors. It was good to see kids in Dead Kennedys T-shirts with X’s on their hands. Their dancing and enthusiasm were contagious for us geezers. It also seemed to put a little extra pep in the step of Agent Orange founder/guitarist/vocalist Mike Palm. As usual, the trio opened with a surf instrumental. The biggest chunk of the set was from the 35 year old Living in Darkness, including the title track, “Too Young To Die”(dedicated to Gene Wilder), “Everything Turns Gray”, “Miserlou”, “The Last Goodbye”, “No Such Thing”, “A Cry For Help in a World Gone Mad”, “Breakdown”, “Mr. Moto” and “El Dorado”. They also threw in “Voices (in the Night)”, “Tearing Me Apart” and “I Kill Spies” from the much less inspiring 1986 follow up This is the Voice.

Mike Palm has always been one of the greatest guitar players in punk, and he’s still got his chops. His once powerful singing voice has diminished a bit over the years, but the crowd is usually more than happy to pick up the slack. The biggest criticism you could level against Agent Orange is that they’re living off the past. They only played one newer song (“This House is Haunted”), and even that is several years old now. While that may be true, I can let it slide if they do it well. On this night, Palm, bassist (since ‘06) Perry Giordano and drummer (since ‘09) Dave Klein played an animated 65 minute set. They seemed genuinely appreciative of the audience. They were definitely more energetic than the last couple of times I’d seen them.

They dedicated their cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” to all the hippies in crowd. The Dead Kennedys’ classic “Police Truck” was dedicated to all the dirty punks. It got one of the biggest audience reactions and inspired one of the biggest pits. The other one that really fired up the drunken masses was second last song, “Bloodstains”. At that point, Alex and I locked arms and had our first father-daughter slam dance. Alex had never been in a mosh pit before, and the smile plastered to her face told me everything I needed to know. When the song was over, we found ourselves at the very front of the stage to watch the closing instrumental. It was a great end to a fun evening.