Friday, April 29, 2022 was Unwritten Law’s first full band performance in over two years, and their first with drummer and founding member, Wade Youman, in four years.
While preparing for their tour in 2018, Youman had a falling out with lead singer Scott Russo, causing him to miss practice and the subsequent tour. Fans were excited to see that not only was Unwritten Law going to be playing a homecoming show premiering their new album in full for the first time, but that Youman had rekindled his relationship with Russo and would be playing again. To me, Unwritten Law will always be Scott Russo and Wade Youman.
The night began sharply at 7:30 p.m. with the PAs blaring out the opening track for Unwritten Law’s new album, which we now know will be titled “The Hum.” From what I’ve heard so far, there are a few tracks that stand out, but it is definitely another strong release from the band. Some early reviews are saying it’s the band’s most mature to date, with comparisons to 1998’s self-titled album (“The Black Record”).
The first opening act was Mouthguard, a San Diego-based hard rock band. They have a pretty ferocious, angsty sound highlighted by guitarists, Mia, and Annika.
Their playing is reminiscent of heavy metal guitarists, such as Kirk Hammett of Metallica or Kerry King of Slayer, and quite impressive. This combined with Dillan Yee’s heavy basslines and lead singer, Violet’s growling vocals make the five piece an entertaining live show that grabs your attention immediately. Throughout their set, though, I found myself unable to take my eyes away from drummer, Milla. Her thunderous drumming definitely left an impression.
Next up was Fran Roz, who reminded me of acts such as Twenty One Pilots, combining alternative, electronic and hip hop. Roz opened with “Ghost Stories” about a doomed relationship that’s now “buried six feet deep, like a memory.” Roz’s set was short, just three songs, but it was catchy and got the crowd moving. Roz finished by playing emo-pop punk song, “3AM.”
Two of the three members of Sitting on Stacy showed up for a quick acoustic set before the night’s headliners. The Ventura 20-somethings echo a mixture of pop punk and even ska. Tonight’s acoustic set, though, had laidback beach vibes, as lead singer and guitarist Hoyt Yeatman sported a Baja hoodie. Sitting on Stacy was absent drummer Jeff Demorest; however, Kyle Hart was there for bass and backup vocal duties. Songs like “Chest Hair” and “Ellen” make you feel like you’re sitting on a Southern California beach.
Unwritten Law opened their nearly 90-minute set with “Lonesome,” highlighted by guitarist, Chris Lewis’s sliding riff, followed by “Rescue Me.” The band played “Teenage Suicide,” one of their earliest hits, joined by P.O.D. lead guitarist, Marcos Curiel. Hearing Lewis and Curiel dual guitars was such an unexpected treat.
Youman began the familiar drum into to “Underground,” and during the drum’s breakdown, roadies began setting up a drum set next to Youman’s, and Milla from Mouthguard joined alongside. There may be other drummers that are more technical or proficient, but the passion and intensity that Youman plays with will always make him a standout to me.
Unwritten Law’s first breakthrough radio hit was “Cailin,” a song named after Russo’s oldest child. Cailin Russo joined her dad onstage to help sing along and Scott’s smile embracing his daughter was about the happiest I’ve ever seen him.
The band debuted “Beggars,” and then began playing, “Seein’ Red,” their biggest hit to date. Russo was joined by his son Tre, who took over lead vocals and got the entire crowd involved as they jumped around during the song’s chorus.
For the past few weeks, Unwritten Law had advertised that rock/hip-hop singer Mickey Avalon “might” show up for a special appearance; their setlist even listed a question mark after his name. But true to his word, the “Jane Fonda” singer appeared right on time to sing “Shoulda Known Better,” a song he co-wrote with Russo. Russo then introduced the next song by saying, “This is for the old school fans” and they went into their rendition of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton,” a rare B-side I’ve never heard played live.
Russo’s supporting band members then left the stage as he began a short acoustic set, as they generally do. He played renditions of “Geronimo” and “How You Feel.” Russo even played “Welcome to Oblivion” and was joined on cello by Daniel Lonner of Spray Allen. The stripped down songs really highlight Russo’s vocal range and show that he’s just as comfortable performing acoustic, as he is tearing through “Shallow” with the rest of the guys, proving he’s one of the best live front-men. The full band would come back onstage and Cailin returned to sing along with her dad for their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies,” which will also be on the upcoming album. The band was joined onstage by trombonist Dan Albert and saxophonist Craig Yarnold of Buck-O-Nine for “Babalon.”
As Russo and Youman returned to the stage, fans saw that the rumors leading up to tonight were true: longtime guitarists Steve Morris and Rob Brewer would be playing a few songs with the band. Both gentlemen had left in pretty volatile ways amongst turmoil in the band to the point where I thought they would never be reunited again. A huge ovation went up and the band launched into “California Sky.” The only piece missing was former bassist, Pat “PK” Kim, however, bass duties were held by current bassist, Jonny Grill. Grill proved why he deserves to be there as he played flawlessly alongside the original Unwritten Law members. They then led into “Superman” and closed with “CPK” (Crazy Poway Kids) and “World War III.”
After all was said and done, the band had played the longest set I’ve ever seen them do: a mind-blowing 28 songs spanning literally every one of their releases. It was easily the best show I’ve seen after some 50 shows over the last three decades.
If there is a “Hum” in the air in San Diego, it’s not only the title of Unwritten Law’s soon to be released seventh album; it’s also the buzz going around the Southern California punk scene after this show.