BERKELEY -- When it comes to American punk rock singers, few have a more impressive CV than SoCal hardcore pioneer Keith Morris. Along with guitarist Greg Ginn, the vocalist co-founded the band that would eventually become Black Flag -- they were initially known as Panic -- in 1976.
While it took some time to solidify a line-up due to their dogged work ethic, Morris was still fronting the band during the recording of their groundbreaking debut Nervous Breakdown EP in 1978 and when they played their first live show under the name a year later.
Personal issues with Ginn led to Morris leaving the band that same year, but the singer landed on his feet soon afterwards when he started Circle Jerks with former Redd Kross guitarist (and future member of Bad Religion) Greg Hetson. Like Black Flag, the group would emerge as one of the cornerstone bands of the burgeoning Southern California punk scene, appearing in the seminal 1981 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization and Alex Cox's landmark sci-fi punk classic Repo Man.
The band's debut effort Group Sex featured several songs Morris had co-written with Black Flag including "I Don't Care" and the drunken punk anthem "Wasted," leading to more acrimony with Ginn and his former band who re-recorded "I Don't Care" with pointedly different lyrics for the new song, "You Bet We've Got Something Personal Against You!"
In late 1980, the band signed to Faulty Records, a subsidiary of successful indie label I.R.S. and issued their influential sophomore album Wild in the Streets. Mixing covers including the Garland Jeffreys-penned title track and a version of the Paul Revere and the Raiders hit "Just Like Me" with alternately obnoxious and politically charged originals, the album firmly established Morris and company as snide and snotty leaders of LA's punk rock pack.
While their next effort Golden Shower of Hits continued the band's streak of solid effort, changes to the band's rhythm section and indifferent production contributed to the lackluster Wonderful in 1985. The band returned to form somewhat with the Relativity Records follow-up VI two years later, but went on an extended hiatus in 1990 as Hetson focused on recording and touring with Bad Religion.
Circle Jerks would periodically reunite to tour well into the 2000s, but only managed one collection of new material -- 1995's Oddities, Abnormalities and Curiosities on Mercury Records. It was during an abortive attempt at recording a new Circle Jerks album in 2009 that led to an acrimonious split as everyone from the band except Morris demanded the firing of producer Dimitri Coats (at the time best known as the leader of the band Burning Brides).
Instead, Morris and Coats enlisted Redd Kross bassist Steven McDonald and drummer Mario Rubalcaba (Hot Snakes, Rocket from the Crypt, Earthless and numerous other bands) to form the punk supergroup OFF! which has been the singer's main creative outlet. The caustic, minute-long blasts heard on a string of EPs hearkened back to the caustic ferocity of Morris' earliest songs with Black Flag as OFF! earned fans young and old with extensive touring and several celebrated releases.
Morris has focused on some other projects since then, leading the group Flag with a number of other Black Flag alumni playing classic material without Ginn, who was touring and recording with his own substandard version of Black Flag. More recently, he published his memoir My Damage: The Story of a Punk Rock Survivor in 2016. The autobiography written with Jim Ruland has been met with wide acclaim for its blunt honesty and vivid portrayal of the early West Coast punk scene.
While the reconciled band originally announced its latest reunion tour -- its first in 15 years -- in late 2019 for the following year that was intended to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Group Sex, the pandemic derailed those plans, leading to the trek being postponed. The group managed to play a number of dates last fall -- including an appearance at Riot Fest in Chicago -- before a case of COVID in the band's ranks and the emergence of the omicron variant led to more postponements.
With cases subsiding and the deluxe reissue of Wild in the Street hitting store shelves -- like the early Trust Records reissue of Group Sex, it includes remastered sound and bonus tracks along with a booklet containing interviews and archival photos of flyers -- the current line-up of the band featuring Morris, Hetson, longtime bassist Zander Schloss and powerhouse drummer Joey Castillo (The Bronx, QOTSA, Danzig, BL'AST!, Wasted Youth) relaunched the tour last spring, playing to packed houses with Orange County punk heroes Adolescents and Detroit band Negative Approach.
For these two shows at Berkeley's UC Theatre, the band will co-headline with fellow SoCal punk groundbreakers the Descendents. Formed in Manhattan Beach in 1977 by guitarist Frank Navetta, bassist Tony Lombardo and drummer Bill Stevenson (who later played in Black Flag), the group initially played a mix of surf and new wave on its first single, but moved in a more aggressive hardcore punk direction after the addition of lead singer Milo Aukerman.
The Descendents played with a fury and precision few of their Los Angeles punk contemporaries could match, but what made the band influential was its focus on melodic songwriting that prefigured the rise of pop-punk in the 1990s. Their snarky, sometimes juvenile lyrics were also cited as having an impact on Green Day, NOFX, Lagwagon and legions of others. While the group has had extended periods of hiatus, the Descendents has remained a hugely popular legacy punk band. The current line-up of the band featuring Stevens, Aukerman and guitarist Stephen Egerton and bassist Karl Alvarez (both members since the mid-1980s), but their most recent release 9th and Walnut featured original guitarist Frank Navetta and bassist Tony Lombardo rejoining the group to record songs written early in their career. The lengthy gestation process started in the early 2000s but wasn't completed until Aukerman added vocals during the pandemic. The two veteran punk acts are joined by a pair of local bands with Grumpster opening Thursday night and Fake Fruit opening Friday's sold-out show.
Circle Jerks and the Descendents
Thursday-Friday, Aug. 25-26, 8 p.m. $49.50-$54.50 (Friday sold out)
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