The Circle Jerks

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Aging Jerks unleash a golden shower of hits

At the Commodore Ballroom on Friday, January 18

No one should have taken Zander Schloss’s dismissive comments about hardcore in the punk documentary American Hardcore seriously. If he truly thought the genre was over and done with years ago, would he still be touring with the Circle Jerks? Interviewed in a men’s washroom in the film, the bassist was clearly taking the piss.

It’s in the group’s nature. The Hermosa Beach, California, quartet has been taking jabs at society, the punk scene, and themselves since 1979, and they were up to their old tricks at the Commodore Ballroom last Friday.

The aging anarchists took the stage just after 11 p.m., with vocalist Keith Morris immediately tearing into his bandmates. “Of course, you know Greg from the Warped Tour,” he snickered of guitarist Greg Hetson’s full-time gig with the equally elderly Bad Religion. “I’m a prick,” he admitted proudly before launching into a nearly 30-song golden shower of hits.

Adorned in ripped jeans, a Melvins T-shirt, and dreadlocks started during the post-Reagan era, the 55-year-old singer barely stood still throughout the hourlong set. Constantly whipping his knotted mane around, Morris stomped and bounded across the stage like a man half his age. Although he’s just a few years shy of cashing in on his pension plan, the singer seethed against the 9-to-5 lifestyle on the speedy “Letter Bomb”.

The bulk of the foursome’s set flew by on Kevin Fitzgerald’s blitzkrieg beats, but the Circle Jerks did let those in the mosh pit catch their breath with “Back Against the Wall”, which slowed things down to a sultry skank. Chrome-domed Hetson, a dead ringer for Sexy Beast star Ben Kingsley, bounced around in his absurdly oversized board shorts, blaring off a succession of tinny ska chords before plunging into the song’s triple-time ending.

After three decades of history with the group, Morris had a wealth of stories to share. Recounting the sketchy times he spent at infamous Hermosa haunt Room 13, the singer introduced the furious “Behind the Door” as being about where he’d go to “get the good blow”. Throughout the night, the singer also reminded the crowd that he was once in the almighty Black Flag, and that Hetson had spent time in Redd Kross.

Although most songs were culled from earlier albums Group Sex and Wild in the Streets, later cuts didn’t fare as well. The slick pop-punk feel of “Anxious Boy”, from 1995’s Oddities Abnormalities and Curiosities, didn’t jell with their usual frenzied blasts, and the group admitted as much. Written during the major-label punk boom of the mid ’90s, the song served as a reminder of an era Morris called “sad and abysmal”. The Jerks capped off their set with old-school fan favourites “World Up My Ass” and “Wasted”.

The nitro-fuelled “Red Tape” kicked off a medley of Morris’s favourites that was completed by three Black Flag tunes; a final encore of Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown” came with the claim that it will be the song he has to sing for the rest of his life. The Circle Jerks ended the night bashing out the cover, arguably hardcore punk’s finest moment, with Morris going berserk, scarring his vocal cords with a lengthy, demonic closing wail.

Covering for Los Angeles no-show Hit Me Back, which was held up at the border, was local group Bison. “A funny thing happened on the way to band practice tonight,” singer James “Gnarwell” Farwell joked with the audience before the East Van combo barrelled into its set. While many in the Commodore crowd found themselves banging their heads, a couple of dissatisfied patrons upfront just couldn’t deal with the act’s metal madness. Despite the desperate cries of “Play faster!”, the band couldn’t have cared less, killing it with a series of sludgy riffs and fret-board-annihilating solos. Despite its metal leanings, refusing to play by hardcore’s rules was the punkest thing Bison could have done.

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