Friday at the Observatory in Santa Ana was a celebration of 40 years of T.S.O.L.’s iconic second album, “Beneath the Shadows,” but it was also a celebration of the Penelope Spheeris movie, “Suburbia.”
Spheeris made the movie two years after her groundbreaking punk documentary, “The Decline of Western Civilization,” and just shortly after “Beneath the Shadows” was released. “Suburbia” tells the story about runaway adolescents who find refuge squatting with fellow homeless teens in the punk community. The film features live performances from T.S.O.L., D.I. and the original lineup of The Vandals. This was quite a memorable experience as both of the first bands played, and a lineup playing Vandals songs reunited for the show.
The night kicked off with Orange County natives, Toxic Energy. I had seen them play a few smaller shows before, but this was definitely a treat to see them at a larger venue. To be honest, I usually don’t expect much from the very first opening band on a bigger lineup like this, but Toxic Energy has been playing for some years now and are all seasoned vets from other bands. I could tell this was going to be a pretty wild crowd as the audience had already formed a pit during the band’s first few songs. Lead singer Greg Dickson was amped and more than willing to treat the audience to a high-energy set.
The only band I had not seen before was Anarchy Taco, which takes their name from a Vandals song off their first EP. The band features Vandals founding guitarist Jan Nils Ackermann, as well as Corey Stretz of JFA and the Crowd on bass. For legal reasons the band plays songs off of the first three releases from The Vandals, most famously, “Peace Thru Vandalism.” Anarchy Taco was fun and it was nice to hear some really old gems that never get played, such as “Pirate’s Life” or “HB Hotel.” The crowd was definitely into it and showed appreciation on songs like,”Anarchy Burger” and “Urban Struggle.” Lead singer Worm closed their set with the “Legend of Pat Brown,” which was welcomed by a huge pit.
Next up was D.I. – always a crowd favorite – and lead singer Casey Royer launched into “Johnny’s Got a Problem,” which opened up a pit that lasted for their entire 40-minute set.
In between songs there was great banter between Royer and bassist/backup vocalist, Eddie Tatar. One of the rowdiest pits all night started as the band began playing the Adolescents’ classic, “Amoeba.” Forty years later, this remains one of the most recognizable anthems of punk music, particularly here in Orange County. Royer actually co-wrote the song with Rikk Agnew, when both were members of the Adolescents. Toward the end of the set, the band included the popular Richard Hung Himself before being joined onstage by a special guest; Ross Lomas of the English punk band, GBH took over for Eddie as the band played “Guns.”
I spoke with Jack Grisham, lead singer for T.S.O.L., last week and he told me that while they were celebrating “Beneath the Shadows,” they were not going to be playing the album in its entirety as some anniversary concerts do. Instead, they would be highlighting certain selections from that album, namely playing songs that they had not played live in 30 or 40 years. They opened their set with “Sounds of Laughter,” followed by “Terrible People.” They played “Forever Old,” a song about how disillusioned Grisham became with the punk scene and with all bands looking and sounding the same. Grisham announced they had not played this song since probably 1983, shortly after the album’s release. Grisham left the stage as the band launched into “Die for Me,” with lead vocals by guitarist, Ron Emory.
After playing the title track off “Shadows,” my favorite moment of the night came when T.S.O.L. began playing “Darker My Love,” one of the songs they play during a live concert scene from “Suburbia.” After the song was finished, he told the crowd that they had not played that song live in at least 20 years. It was a treat to not only hear these songs that had not been played in literally decades, but particularly one from such an iconic movie scene that has become synonymous with punk rock.
I know that I was far from the only one that night who was feeling nostalgic and that something pretty magical was happening before our eyes. Witnessing a legendary punk band from Orange County in their hometown was enough to bring out Dexter Holland, lead singer of The Offspring, who I spotted watching from the back of stage area. Despite their enormous fame over the years, it’s not unusual to see Holland or Offspring guitarist, Noodles, at fellow punk rock show in OC, and the two are regular attendees of The Vandals Christmas Formal.
T.S.O.L. played “Thoughts of Yesterday” and “Ghost Train,” which they pointed out they “had not played in a very long time.” Someone in the crowd asked for “Abolish Government,” a staple of their usual setlist, and Grisham told the crowd they were taking the request and began playing. The final song came after Grisham addressed the crowd once more commenting on their long career and the album’s longevity before launching into “Code Blue.”
After having seen T.S.O.L. play various shows throughout the years, I feel like this one will stand out as I look back due to the rare gems that likely may never be played live again, and I will be grateful I was in attendance.