Legendary Los Angeles punk rock band, Circle Jerks began a run of California shows at The Observatory North Park in San Diego, bringing along venerable hardcore punk pioneers True Sounds of Liberty (T.S.O.L) and Negative Approach to ensure it would be a show punk fans would not want to miss. Sure enough, as I arrived at the venue, a sign posted on the ticket office window read “Sold Out!”
With the venue already almost full, the hardcore pioneers out of Detroit, Negative Approach kicked off the crazy night. John Brannon, original vocalist since 1981, delivered his aggressive guttural screaming vocal performance, as pissed-off as ever.
Guitarist Harry Richardson, in true punk attitude fashion, played with his back to the audience the entire show – focused purely on delivering furious punk chords and not giving a shit about “performing.”
Next up were the punk legends out of Long Beach, True Sounds of Liberty (T.S.O.L.), who’ve been going strong since 1978 (with some lengthy gaps of inactivity mixed in).
Founder and vocalist Jack Grisham paced around the stage with swagger and a wide grin, clearly enjoying himself and relishing the fact that a young rebellious punk band from the late ‘70s could still deliver a show with the same punk spirit and bravado over 40 years later.
Grisham thanked the audience for coming out and sarcastically proclaimed, “It’s good to see you again. Well, good to see those of you still alive!” Original guitarist Ron Emory is a legend himself, and although I hadn’t seen him play live since the late ‘80s, he is still bringing that same live intensity and passion as always.
Although original bassist Mike Roche had been playing with the band in recent years, he has been out much of 2023. At a previous show, we were told “a family member” was filling in, and it appeared to be the case here as well. The dapper 23-year-old bassist fit right in and covered the driving basslines and backing vocals with the required precision, angst, and attitude.
T.S.O.L.’s set included classics “Abolish Government/ Silent Majority,” “World War III,” and “Dance with Me.” They ended with “Code Blue,” a sick and twisted macabre, all-time great punk anthem about necrophilia that stirred the audience into a frenzied mosh pit with crowd surfers flying all over the place.
The main event started with founding member and legend, Keith Morris, saying hi to the crowd in his usual nonchalant, eccentric way. Another original member still going strong is guitarist Greg Hetson, while veteran bassist Zander Schloss has been with the band since the ‘80s.
The only newcomer to the band made his presence known on the first downbeat; accomplished drummer Joey Castillo (Danzig, Queens of the Stone Age). Castillo was an absolute beast on the kit, proving up to the task of driving the band’s high-energy, aggressive performance.
Ask any of their fans and they will tell you that Circle Jerks are well known for their fast-paced, short songs with catchy hooks and rebellious lyrics. Being the great punk band they are, they often tackle social and political issues with loads of sarcasm. With his long dreadlocks dangling in front a Black Sabbath shirt, Morris had the audience going nuts; the crowd eating up the raw fast-tempo intensity by singing along to the machine-gun fast aggressive lyrics in sync with Morris all night.
If you have a favorite Circle Jerks song, it was likely in their 31 song set: “World Up My Ass,” “Don’t Care,” “Live Fast Die Young,” and “I Wanna Destroy You” raged in all their historic glory. Hearing a crowd sing along with a band is certainly not uncommon. But to witness a crowd, highly represented by late teens and 20-somethings, sing along at rapid-fire speed, and at a decibel level loud enough to hear over the roar of ripping guitars was quite impressive!
The legends hit high gear with their “hit song” (as Morris described it) “Wild in the Streets.” A mosh pit erupted and fans pumped fists high the air in sync with the accents of the chorus.
It was a raucous night of hardcore craziness, with three of the most influential punk rock bands of all time still impressively and proudly going strong after 40 years. With a noticeably younger element in the audience, it is clear the punk rock spirit continues to flourish today, in great part to these three bands that are all a part of punk rock history. Punk is truly alive and well in San Diego!