In what was billed as the largest punk concert in L.A. history, South Bay survivors Pennywise — along with a stellar four-band support lineup– filled the downtown Sports Arena on Friday, and the show’s success was a testament not only to the band’s staying power but to the health of the local hardcore scene.
Post-punk has fallen off the national pop radar, but Pennywise, which formed in Hermosa Beach in 1988, is just now hitting its creative and commercial peak.
Having survived the alcohol-related suicide of founding member-bassist Jason Thirsk in 1996, as well as interpersonal squabbles, the group has crafted two of its best realized and most stimulating albums with 1997’s earnest “Full Circle” and last year’s ambitious and politicized “Straight Ahead,” both through Epitaph Records.
At the Sports Arena (which, in light of the nearby Staples Center, has reportedly lowered its rent for concerts), Pennywise played songs from all five of their albums with a reckless abandon, beginning with the title track from 1993’s “Unknown Road,” which even included the song’s distinctive piano intro performed live by ex-Joykiller member Ronnie King.
The young, whipped-up crowd responded to the propulsive and tightly wound music with loud cheers and numerous pits on the floor. “They said we couldn’t sell out the Sports Arena,” shouted singer Jim Lindberg, to which the fans offered many middle fingers.
Pennywise has always stood out from the punk fray because of the positive tone of its lyrics, but the angry songs on “Straight Ahead” — collectively, an indictment of American government and Western society in general –reflect a band committed to making a difference.
As Pennywise played, a succession of symbols and images representing U.S. and Los Angeles were displayed on screens at either side of the stage, adding fuel to the provocative songs. When the band covered Nirvana’s urgent “Territorial Pissings,” a photo of Nirvana featuring Kurt Cobain with his middle finger extended was displayed, eliciting a variety of responses from the crowd.
Reggae-punks the Long Beach Dub Allstars, which formed out of the remains of Sublime after that band’s singer died from a drug overdose, were second-billed and offered a decent if sloppy (and too-long) supply of stoner-dub. Also performing were veteran local punk crews the Vandals, TSOL and the Descendentsspinoff band All.
Proceeds from the concert will be donated to a number of local youth-oriented charities, including Covenant House and the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center.