Four decades after the hardcore punk band known as the Circle Jerks formed in Hermosa Beach, California, the band would reunite with three of its longstanding members to embark on a tour across the United States.
Founding members Keith Morris and Greg Hetson, joined by longtime bassist Zander Schloss, and new addition Joey Castillo on drums, announced in 2019 that they would be co-headlining Punk Rock Bowling 2020, followed by a national tour. Those plans were all postponed due to COVID, however, they played night two of Punk Rock Bowling in September and launched their tour shortly thereafter. Saturday night, they played House of Blues with fellow legendary punk bands Adolescents and Negative Approach opening.
The Circle Jerks’ current lineup features a who’s who of punk rock royalty. Morris is best known as the original lead singer of both Black Flag and Circle Jerks. Hetson, who had previously played guitar in Red Kross, also joined Bad Religion in one of their early incarnations, while still playing with the Circle Jerks. Schloss joined the band in 1984 and is featured on their last three studio albums. Castillo was only added on when the Circle Jerks announced they would be reforming in 2019, however, he is most recognizable as drummer for Queens of the Stone Age, and currently also The Hives.
Negative Approach – a band who started nearly as far back as the Circle Jerks – opened up the night and treated fans to a 45-minute set containing an ambitious 22 songs. The band’s sole original member is lead vocalist John Branno, however, the current lineup has been the same since 2006. One of the most interesting aspects of Negative Approach is they only released one full-length studio album, “Tied Down.” They blazed through “Hypocrite,” “Can’t Tell No One,” and closed with the Iggy and the Stooges cover, “I Got a Right.”
House of Blues
February 19, 2022
Southern California punk rock legends, Adolescents, were up next and received a loud, warm welcome. Lead singer Tony Reflex graced the stage wearing two masks, which did not limit his vocals one bit. Reflex remains the only original member of group, tragically losing Steve Soto in 2018. Though no one will ever be able to replace Soto, a pleasant surprise is Brad Logan (F-Minus and Leftöver Crack) filling in on bass, and he did a magnificent job.
I love that Circle Jerks had both of their openers play for 45 minutes, which made for longer and enjoyable sets. A pit started almost before the opening notes of “No Way,” their opening song, followed by “Queen of Denial” and “Lockdown America.” One word turned the entire venue into a frenzy and nearly one giant mosh pit that swallowed up a majority of the floor: “Amoeba!” One of the most recognizable punk anthems and the crowd responded accordingly. The 17-song setlist concluded with “Kids of the Black Hole.”
Just after 10 p.m., a huge ovation went through the sold-out crowd as all four members of Circle Jerks took to the stage, oddly walking out to Herb Alpert’s “A Taste of Honey.” A light jazz number from the ‘60s almost served as an antithesis for the rowdy and aggressive experience that was to follow. After a few comments from Morris about the band’s start, they began playing “Deny Everything,” the lead track off their debut album, “Group Sex.”
Due to the short, fast nature of their songs, they tend to play groups of songs followed by a brief break, allowing Morris to comment on everything from the current state of affairs to the band’s history. After the first eight songs, the band and crowd got a chance to catch their breath, and Morris reminded everyone that this tour is to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of “Group Sex,” and the 40th anniversary of their follow up album, “Wild in the Streets.”
Since catching their set at Punk Rock Bowling, I’ve remarked that this is the most energetic and youthful that I’ve seen Greg Hetson. His guitar-playing is sharper and faster than ever, harkening back to the days of playing a dark and dingy basement or warehouse. The same can be said for Schloss; he embodies the fast, aggressive style that represented early ‘80s hardcore. Who I found myself watching the whole night, though, was the newest addition to the lineup, “Joey C.” Castillo. Already an established and well-sought-after drummer in his own right, his frenetic and polished drumming style really brought a new life and energy to the band. You already have this legendary band of nearly folklore status, by rounding out the group with Castillo, it really elevated their entire performance.
While focusing primarily on “Group Sex” and “Wild in the Streets,” the Circle Jerks played a nice collection of songs from their entire catalogue, which helped showcase their 40+ year career. During these blocks of songs, they would flow seamlessly and with little to no pause, demonstrating their chemistry and the practice that had gone into launching this tour. Even as the newest member, Castillo took his cues and played on-time, often at breakneck speeds. One of the biggest crowd reactions was when they played the title track “Wild in the Streets,” and then again when they concluded their initial set with “Red Tape.” They came back for a three-song encore consisting of the Soft Boys cover “I Wanna Destroy You,” “What’s Your Problem,” and “Question Authority.”
The history of the Circle Jerks spans back to the late ‘70s. For nearly a decade, it looked like anyone who never got the chance to see them had sadly missed out on a special slice of punk rock history. This is one of those tours you will get to brag, “I got to see the Circle Jerks play live.” There were people Saturday night who were there in the early days, and some seeing them live for the very first time.
For those not lucky enough to score tickets in time, you have one last chance in May, as the Circle Jerks play the Palladium joined by 7 Seconds, New Jersey’s Bouncing Souls, and Negative Approach. Who knows when you might get another opportunity to see them live, because as their own song goes, they might just be “86’d (Good as Gone).”