The iconic hardcore punk band Circle Jerks had finally returned to NYC with a pair of shows at Irving Plaza as part of their first full North American tour in over 15 years. After having to cancel shows multiple times due to the COVID pandemic, but to make the tour even more epic they brought along two other classic 80’s punk outfits 7 Seconds and Negative Approach for a punker team-up super tour that was set to blast all moshing expectations into oblivion.
I was turned onto punk as a kid mostly because we had very little other radio choices in Dayton, Ohio other than classic rock station and pop as I was growing up back in the late 80’s, and all that commercialize junk felt like that music was forced on my young mind. However, if you were in the car and caught the right wind, were in the right part of town, and it was at the right time of day, you could maybe barely catch the college radio station from Cincinnati, and that’s where I first managed to hear the sounds of real alternative music and punk bands. Of course, it wasn’t long before I started hanging out with skater kids who’d often pass me tapes that I always devoured with a devout greediness, one of which was a Circle Jerks mix-tape. They were also the first real punk show I had ever seen, going all the way to Columbus to witness my first dangerously swirling mosh pit and bathe in the edgy rock World they offered. The Repo Man soundtrack was one of the first cassettes I ever bought with my own money, and that had a Circle Jerks song among the impressive list of bands that graced its track list, and what kid doesn’t love a movie about glowing cars and anti-social loners? So, I was hooked on this band early on in my musical development, and this night had me really nostalgic for my wild youth rejecting the classic rock that felt like it was being shoved down my throat and into my ears all the time, and reminded me of my snubbing many of the Mid-Western values that were also constantly being pushed on my young mind as though it was all divine gospel.
The Circle Jerks started all the way back in 1979 when founding Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris and Redd Kross guitarist Greg Hetson shrugged of their former seminal punk bands to form something new and exciting. They ended up dominating the 80’s hardcore scene, but by the time the 90’s hit they had already broken up, and while Morris dealt with his growing mental and physical health problems, Hetson went on to success with Bad Religion who he had been playing with since the mid-80’s. They did manage to get back together for a short time in the mid-90’s, which was when they released their last full album of material, and they would periodically get back together for reunion tours, but it never seemed to last as either Morris’s health problems or the fact they often hated each other would usually tear them apart again. Still, they hadn’t actually toured as a unit since 2011, and even though they were supposed to tour way back in 2019, those plans were scuttled again as the pandemic cancelled all shows for a couple years, and even as they were supposed to play NYC earlier this year these shows had to be postponed once again after Morris caught COVID and had to take a time out to recover. So, these shows were an extra, extra especially welcome sight for both old and new punk fans eager to mosh out their quarantined frustrations and pent-up rage.
Opening the show was another classic hardcore punk band from the 1980’s by the name of Negative Approach, a Detroit band that formed back in 1981, but only lasted a few years before breaking up and spending years gathering up a reputation as one of the more underrated and overlooked outfits of the Midwest skater punk era. They did reunite again in 2006, and have played occasionally since then, but it has been a minute since singer John Brannon and his reformed archetypal punker creation has hit the road. They initially formed back in the day after Brannon saw a Black Flag show and was forever changed, so this tour really brings things full circle for him as a performer. I get strong Iggy Pop and the Stooges vibes after seeing him pour himself into the performance, as he pushed every drop of sweat and every ounce of energy into his act. They only played for about half an hour, but it seemed like they played an ocean’s worth of punk classics, including lots from their debut 1982 EP and their sole full album, 1983’s Tied Down, and songs like “Nothing,” “Can’t Tell No One,” Dead Stop,” and “Ready to Fight” all felt like they carried much more weight and are far more visceral now than they were back in the 80’s, and their covers of Sham 69’s “Borstal Breakout” and The Stooges’ “I Got a Right” were killer additions to the set.
Next up was one of the most influential 80’s punk bands of my young life 7 Seconds. My friend let me borrow their ’85 album Walk Together, Rock Together, and it got stuck in the cassette player of my car and remained there on continuous rotation my whole junior year of High School until it finally broke from constant play. I only saw the band once back in the 80’s, but they have been playing and recording periodically since those days, and I have seen vocalist Kevin Seconds play solo several times since as well, but now Seconds and founding bassist Steve Youth have brought the band back out again, and I must admit they’ve never sounded finer. Sammy Siegler from the bands Youth of Today and Judge sat in for longtime drummer Troy Mowat, as he had to sit the tour out due to health issues. They ripped through a truly impressive array of songs from their catalogue, including “Here’s Your Warning,” “Satyagraha,” “Not Just Boys Fun,” “We’re Gonna Fight,” and “Regress No Way” which were all great punk anthems that got the impressively swirling mosh pit in the center of the floor to expand to the point that it felt like it’d would swallow the entire venue. Stioll, the closer of their classics “Walk Together, Rock Together,” “ Young ‘Til I Die,” and the finale of their cover of Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” really brought the house down, and it all proved to be a hard set to beat.
Circle Jerks were never a band to stand down without a fight, and even though Keith Morris took to many lengthy monologues between songs about everything from how Herb Alpert “discovered” them, to how COVID messed up their celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Group Sex album; and that by now they’ll be celebrating 40 years of the disc Wild In The Streets, to his diatribes about how they spent years hating each other but found ways to get their act together and come back out, they still played a set that felt as powerful and urgent as ever, outshining the hefty tirades, and it was a true treat to see them back rocking harder than ever. The new drummer Joey Castillo was a great driving force to the music, and seeing long time bassist Zander Schloss back on stage with the band again after a long absence was a true treat, especially as he even appeared the movie Repo Man back in the day which really brought the whole show back to the old days for me, and when they played the song “Coup d etat” from that soundtrack I must admit I lost my shit. There were so many more classics they ripped through, from “I Just Want Some Skank,” “Wild in the Streets,” “World Up My Ass,” “Leave Me Alone,” “Live Fast Die Young,” “World Up My Ass,” and my favorite song “Wasted,” I thought it may never get better, but their encore of a The Soft Boys cover “I Wanna Destroy You” followed by the street fight anthems “What’s Your Problem” and “Question Authority” very nearly blew the roof of Irving Plaza and helped this show become truly one of the most powerfully impressive shows I’ve seen for quite some time.
Article/Images: Dean Keim