Circle Jerks - live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Circle Jerks

live in Philadelphia (2022)

live show

“We hated each other for a while,” Keith Morris announced from the stage of the TLA in Philly on July 15. “It happens. But, we had to sit down and talk before this could happen, and friends again, now.” Indeed, the Circle Jerks reunion was a bit of surprise when it was announced (three years ago!) since the band collapsed with Keith starting OFF! Since the other members of CJs didn’t seem interested in the band. But then, after the CJ reunion was announced due to a lull in OFF! activities, the Philly show was delayed YEARS and SEVERAL times due to covid.

So, there was a lot of anticipation as the band took the stage on July 15… set to the soundtrack of Herp Albert. Before the gig even started, Keith started a classic Keith-speech about how the CJs owe a debt of gratitude to the famous easy-listening trumpeter. Apparently, Alpert’s label, A&M wanted to sign the Circle Jerks when they first got started! But, once boardmembers heard the band, the idea was canned- but it seems it was just the jolt for the band to get moving in the first place and thereby carry them forward 42 years (so far!)

And of course, as soon as Keith started his Keith-isms, people in the audience yelled out, “play some music!” “Less talk, more rock!” As lovably irritable as ever, Keith snapped backed, “we’re adults and don’t have curfews! Do You?! I can talk up here because I earned that right!” Keith certainly has and it is kind of stupefying that not only do people STILL not get that going on a tangent filled rap is one of Keith’s things, but it’s also one of the things that makes the band so hilarious and a little bit above their more dour contemporaries.

Well anyway, they soon did get started and boy did they ROCK. The band blasted through a massive 32 track set, which focused mostly on the first two albums, Group Sex and Wild in the Streets. LP #3, Golden Shower of hits got about half of its track list in the mix while everything else got about 3-4 numbers combined.

“Deny Everything” kicked off the procession and the band blasted through the 30 second track in about 20 ticks. From there, they went from classic to classic in blocks of four or five songs, with Keith giving a little spiel between the segments. For his part, Keith is STILL Keith Morris and he sounds fantastic. The cracking, edged voice cut through the music and was delivered with an intensity, but also a sort of dedication. Circle Jerks shows are usually played pretty raw- it’s fats and loose- but Keith seems to hold this music with a great deal of respect. A lot of Circle Jerks songs have weird tics, such as on “Back Against the Wall” where parts you’d expect to be quiet are loud, and vice-versa, and Keith made it a point to nail these little eccentricities to really make the songs pop. Mid set, Keith mentioned that he was 66 and DAMN, the dude is KILLING it.

Greg Hetson is, too. As per his usual style, Hetson talked very little (not at all, actually) and hammered out the riffs. Hetson probably doesn’t get enough credit as a punk guitarist, but as the Philly show proved, he is top tier. Sure Circle Jerks music seems pretty simple to play- but that’s the genius. As Hetson slammed down the smashing two-note stomp on “Trapped,” the place went nuts. That is, Hetson knows how to make something that resonates due to its pureness. Zander Schloss countered Hetson’s strike with a borad, lumbering sound that give the whole band a real punch.

And speaking of punches, Joey Castillo is now behind the kit. Castillo is a veteran drummer and he applied that journeyman technique to the live shows. First of all, Castillo hits hard like a metal drummer, so the drums had a particular strong resonance. Also, Castillo is a very precise drummer- he plays pretty fast, but the beat is metronomic. Earlier Circle jerks drummers have often had a looser approach, which often made the band a little more shambolic and perhaps a little more chaotic. By contrast, Castillo kept the band in line with his systematic force. Some people like the crazier approach more, some people like the more forceful approach- me? I like ‘em both. At any rate, Castillo proved he’s the man for this job.

By the end of the 33 song set, the band played all of the hits, and wisely, didn’t water the set list down with some of the band less powerful, later day stuff. You wanted all of Group Sex? You got it. They’ve done it before but they did it again- Circle Jerks proved just why they are one of the all time greatest bands (punk or not) and why their 15 minute album has had such amazing resonance and life to it. Ironic that a band whose debut was so impactful due to its brevity yet again proved their station through a marathon, extended set.

Before CJs, 7 Seconds came out, playing with a bit more of an optimistic vibe. Now fronted Willie Nelson… uh… I mean a Kevin Seconds sporting long twin braids, the band went from tune to tune, kicking out high energy, but melodic tracks that were in the uplifting vein. What I like about Circle Jerks is that sometimes the songs are simply negative- “Everything is fucked!” What I like about 7 Seconds, is that sometimes the songs are simply positive, “Everything is fucked!... but we’ll get through it!”

The band played about 20 songs, with most if it coming from The Crew. The rest of the tracks were picked from the bands rather large discography at about an pro rata distribution. The band sounded great and the crowd was into it. Of course, the closed with “99 Red Balloons.” Interestingly, Kevin said something along the lines of “I know this is a dumb song, but it means a lot to us.” At this point, I think everyone gets the idea of the song (and it’s a cool song to boot), so I was surprised by Kevin’s apparent hesitance. It just goes to show, no matter how positive you are, there’s always negative thoughts in the background. That’s probably what makes 7 Seconds’ unrelenting message so interesting.

The show opened with sonic sledgehammer legends Negative Approach. Of course, John Brannon was up there on stage looking mean. The 20 yard stare never left his face. Meanwhile, the band smashed from tune to tune. They easily made it through a 20 plus song set… because most of the tunes are about 45 seconds… or less. What was impressive about the set is that Negative Approach thrives in a sort of mono-sonic charge. All the songs are fast. They are all blown out. They’re all screamed. They’ll angry. That’s the virtue of the band. It’s a singular, hot blast of angry energy. It’s a primal scream with some fast guitars in the background. The lyrics are muffled in the din and screamed delivery, but that doesn’t matter. The Philly set was aimed at the soul, not the intellect, and that’s why the band somehow can communicate deep concepts when all you “hear” is “Grawwwaarralalallwaargggg Waaark!”