When you think of punk rock you don’t automatically think of Pioneertown, California or Pappy and Harriet’s–at least, you didn’t until Sunday night when the Circle Jerks played their first gig in over a decade, supported by Negative Approach.
It was a new moon in the Yucca Valley. There was a translucent, blue glow on the edges of the horizon when I pulled up to Pappy and Harriet’s at dusk. Seemingly a few moments later, the sky was dark and you could see the edges of the galaxy in the night sky. I could almost make out the ghosts of Darby Crash and GG Allin in the distance, floating up above us like Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker.
What a setting for Keith Morris, Greg Hetson, Zander Schloss and the latest addition to The Circle Jerks-the hard hitting, perfectly metered percussive Jedi Master, Joey Castillo.
The buildup to this show was palpable. Not only had it been over 10 years since the Circle Jerks played a show but up until recently, it had been awhile since ANYONE had played a show. This reunion was scheduled for 2020 but SARS-Cov-2 had different plans.
The trauma was real. The build up to the show was filled with the same type of discourse that most things are filled with but with the added debate about whether mandatory vaccinations were punk, or not was annoying as fuck-on both sides of the argument.
But when Negative Approach started their set, everything melted away except for the cloud of dust that would hover above the pit most of the night. The masks DEFINITELY came in handy.
Negative Approach was the perfect choice to play at such a location for such an occasion. NA’s second life in today’s scene is no less impactful than their first. Over the last few years, you could find Negative Approach headlining little clubs and backyard parties and in particular, the latter as we all emerged from sheltering in place for over a year.
As Negative Approach began their set, it was apparent that this would sound like no NA set I had ever heard. The sound was perfect, not only instrumentally but the clarity of the banshee like vocals of frontman, John Brannon were complimented perfectly by the back up vocals of bassist, Ron Sakowski, who sounded like 10 demons in a tunnel. The pit started off slow, probably due to a quarter of the crowd being local, non-punk enlisted civilians. They cleared out of the clouds of floating dirt and elbows quickly, though.
As the Circle Jerks took the stage, Keith Morris lamented on much including making sure we patronized the restaurant while we were here and letting us know that us buying merch and tickets would contribute to his retirement fund, of which he is more than deserving. Morris’ banter is so endearing and real. Much is gleaned through it including the dynamics of the band, suggesting Greg Hetson kicks guitar cabs if he makes a mistake and prodding Zander Schloss about his “many fans”.
After a few moments of this, Morris asked the band, “Shall we or shant we?” and the band launched right into a blistering, set opening performance of “Deny Everything”.
Over the course of the next 32 songs, The Circle Jerks established themselves, if they hadn’t already, as the most important, vintage hardcore punk band touring today. The professionalism was well apparent and the care that went into this first step back to getting on this highly anticipated tour, put their best feet forward. The pit erupted during Wild In The Streets, and World Up My Ass. You can check out the setlist here.
Seeing all the old punk bands play now, whom were long defunct for whatever reasons over the course of my life has been getting stale. I want vitality and dexterity and band members convulsing, faces twitching from the energy they are exchanging with the audience. While no one but Greg Hetson up front, with his signature punk guitar hero moves could make it too far off the ground, the authenticity and tightness of the music, Morris’ musings and the very real thirst that the absence of The Circle Jerks has left, has old fans like me hydrated and doused n00bs with a dose of well oiled angst, preserved in the struggle of the American Dream.