Punk rock royalty graced the Observatory Friday night as Orange County legends, T.S.O.L. brought what has become their annual January shows to Santa Ana. As usual, the second night was in Los Angeles, but there’s something about seeing a lineup featuring T.S.O.L., The Crowd, and Carpit – all hometown heroes – in their own environment.
No doubt all three acts had played together in this same spot, not only at the Observatory, but at its predecessor, the famous Galaxy Theater in the ‘90s and early 2000s. Joining this stacked lineup was none other than punk rock degenerates, Dwarves.
The evening started off with Long Beach’s Carpit. The punk rock four piece got the crowd amped up for the evening with music that represents the classic ‘90s punk rock sound of Orange County. With fast, angry music songs, some clocking in under two minutes, they were making the most of their 30-minute opening set. They played “Sex Junkie” and received the biggest reaction of their night with “Blast” which started up the first official pit of the night. They closed their set with “Mess,” which lead singer, Rob Caramella introduced as, “You fucking brought this mess on yourself.”
If there’s any band that can go toe to toe with T.S.O.L. in terms of punk rock tenure, it’s Huntington Beach’s The Crowd. Guitarist Jim Kaa introduced their first song with, “This is one that started it all,” as the band kicked into “Modern Machine.” Lead vocalist Jim Decker provided angsty, snotty lyrics for songs like “Masquerade” as he bounced around on stage, clad in his usual thick black spectacles.
In contrast to the night’s openers, The Crowd provided more of a beach punk vibe in homage to the city where they got their start. They played “Politics” and “And Her Curse (is Her Kiss)” and closed their set with “Dynamite” and “Letter Bomb.”
As the Dwarves took the stage, they began playing “Unrepentant,” which starts off as a slow, almost bluesy melody before exploding into its true punk rock self. As soon as the song kicked in, a large, rowdy mosh pit came with it and it would last for the remainder of the show. This was by far the most raucous pit I’ve seen in a while, which fit right in as the Dwarves played “We Must Have Blood” and “I Will Deny You.”
Lead singer Blag Dahlia is the consummate front-man. Full of bravado and brash, he constantly reminded crowd that not only were Dwarves “rock legends,” but that they were also “the last punk band around.”
For their part, the band definitely played a set that would have you believing every word he said. Bassist and vocalist Nick Oliveri sang lead on “Devil’s Level” (which Dahlia announced was written by Orange County drum legend, Josh Freese) and “We Only Came to Get High.”
Guitarist Marc Diamond, aka The Fresh Prince of Darkness, can truly shred as seen in the solo for “You’ve Gotta Burn.” And of course, the phenomenal Gabriel Perez, or “Snupac,” as always is tremendous to watch as he blazes through songs like “Back Seat of My Car” and “Act Like You Know” at lightning speed before bringing their set to an end with “Dominator.”
As T.S.O.L. took to the stage, keyboardist Greg Kuehn began playing the dark, ominous intro to “Beneath the Shadows” as lead singer Jack Grisham appeared in full ‘80s glam rock apparel: sequined black jacket, black mascara smeared across his left eye resembling a black eye, and a dangling left earring. I noticed immediately that founding bassist Mike Roche was absent. Grisham addressed this by saying he was at home recuperating, but one of his talented family members, Brandon, was taking his place for these shows.
The band played classics like “World War III” and “Abolish Government,” but unfortunately during “Wash Away,” Grisham stopped the show as someone threw a beer can that hit his daughter in the front row. He was understandably upset and asked for someone to point out the culprit.
After a few minutes, they restarted the song without incident. Although I don’t feel he needed to, Grisham apologized for acting out of character and not being very cool about it (I disagree and probably would’ve reacted the same). A special treat was when the band played “Love You More Dead,” a song by The Joykiller, a side project from 1995 featuring Grisham and T.S.O.L. guitarist, Ron Emory. Two songs later, Emory took lead vocals on “Die for Me” as I watched Offspring lead singer Dexter Holland sing along to every word near the back of the stage.
Grisham announced that he actually had bronchitis and his doctor strongly advised him not to play, which is shocking because he looked and sounded fantastic. Grisham also said there is an upcoming documentary about T.S.O.L. called “Ignore Heroes” and he invited everyone to come see it. The legendary band capped the evening with Grisham and his daughter singing “Code Blue,” with Jack happier than I believe I’ve ever seen him. It was the perfect way to show two generations of punk coming full circle.