Bottom feeders

The return of the Germs, the Adolescents, and Flipper
By JIM SULLIVAN  |  August 22, 2006

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MOSH APPEAL: The Adolescents are at least playing to adolescents.

Punk rock has never been a seemly genre in which to grow old. Not that that’s kept bands on both sides of the Atlantic from reuniting regularly, especially in the wake of the ’90s neo-punk renaissance. In some cases — X are one good example — the very nature of punk rock’s anything-goes æsthetic has allowed artists to mature without losing their edge. If D Boon were alive today, he’d still be making music, under the Minutemen umbrella or otherwise. But one strain of punk — hardcore, with its loud, fast rules — has always screamed YOUTH MUSIC! And like Sid Vicious, a number of hardcore’s more notorious characters have followed the advice of the Who’s “My Generation” and died young. Germs singer Darby Crash OD’d in 1980 after just one Joan Jett–produced album by the band. Flipper singer/bassist Will Shatter lasted a bit longer before he OD’d in 1987. That hasn’t kept either of those two bands from joining another formative California hardcore outfit, the Adolescents, in reuniting for tours this summer. The Adolescents and the Germs played back-to-back nights at Axis at the tail end of July; Flipper are set to play the Middle East downstairs this Saturday. There’s not much in the way of new music here — just the old stuff played by older guys (and one gal, Germs bassist Lorna Doom).

The music these bands made was written and recorded when the members were young, angry, and caught up in California’s burgeoning hardcore movement — a scene that sprang up in the wake of ’70s punk explosions in New York and London. What could it be like to form a band as a teenager, call it the Adolescents, and then find yourself playing those same songs at the age of 42? A little, oh, ironic, wouldn’t you say?

I put the question to Adolescents bassist Steve Soto backstage following their Axis set. “Whenever anyone says that, I say, ‘Do you think the Circle Jerks sit around and jerk each other off?’ ” Point taken. And if the Adolescents, who did release the new OC Confidential (Finger) last year, weren’t touring? “We’d stay home, sit on the couch, and not play,” Soto deadpans.

Soto is encouraged by the Adolescents’ audience, which he estimates is three-quarters kids. So they’re at least still playing to adolescents. The mosh pit was buzzing with youthful adrenaline during their set at Axis, as was a smaller but equally intense pit the following night for the Germs. “We started doing this again almost five years ago. If we’d found we were just playing to our peers, I don’t know if we’d have kept doing it.” Besides, the Adolescents have a genuine kid on guitar: long-time family friend Joe Harrison, 16, filling in for temporarily on-leave oldster Frank Agnew.

Soto and singer Tony Cadena formed the Adolescents with Agnew in ’79, after leaving Agent Orange; in ’81 they began a series of break-ups and reunions. Dozens of members have come and gone (even Germs/Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear was once an Adolescent), and Soto says there have been four major versions of the band. Derek O’Brien is now the drummer. How that’s affected the Adolescents’ legacy is up for debate. Soto himself doesn’t seem too concerned about it.

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