One by one the four members of the Circle Jerks ambled onto the stage at the 40 Watt on Dec. 14. First it was Joey Castillo, the drummer and latest addition to the group, on loan from L.A. punk band The Bronx, who began building up his kit. Then it was bass player Zander Schloss—Kevin from Alex Cox’s 1984 masterpiece Repo Man—followed by vocalist Keith Morris and guitar player Greg Hetson.
No nonsense, no grand entrance, just elder statesmen of Southern California’s punk and hardcore genesis of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s talking amongst themselves, and plugging in their instruments.
Introductions and some Georgia football banter were brief… And bam: “Innocent, until I’m proven guilty. Deny everything, deny everything.”
It had been 15 years since the Circle Jerks last graced a Georgia stage, and time has only increased the potency of such classic punk anthems as “Back Against the Wall,” “Coup D’État,” “When the Shit Hits the Fan” and “World Up My Ass.”
The group tore through 33 songs on Wednesday night, touching on everything from their 1980 debut album Group Sex (pretty much in its entirety) through “I Want To Destroy You,” a cover of the Soft Boys song that appears on 1995’s Oddities, Abnormalities and Curiosities.
The Circle Jerks’ set was a riotous finale for a night that kicked off with Detroit hardcore legends Negative Approach and Richmond, VA’s thrash-metal cut-ups Municipal Waste.
Negative Approach’s John Brannon possesses one of the most intimidating glares that punk has ever known. He may be the nicest guy in the world to chat with at the merch table at the end of the night. But when he stands at the edge of the stage, scowling, screaming and pointing, there’s no telling what kind of primal skull bashing his presence could possibly draw out of your fellow Georgians fidgeting next to you in the pit.
His antagonistic stare is matched only by the unrelenting wall of noise hammered out by his bandmates—members of Brannon’s other group Easy Action. At times, their crushing sound on stage made it difficult to hone in on what particular songs were being played. But as the hooks in “Tied Down,” “Nothing” and “Ready to Fight” revealed themselves, the blast of maxed-out distortion and rhythm found a perfectly dark and aggressive balance.
Richmond, VA’s thrash-metal masters Municipal Waste brought the energy to a new high, opening their set with a full-throttle run through “Breathe Grease” from 2017’s Slime and Punishment LP. Municipal Waste’s infectious sense of humor was the perfect counterweight to Negative Approach’s nihilistic snarl. It was also a great primer for the Circle Jerks loud-fast shotgun-style mantras.
Throughout the evening Morris made a few cracks about age—he’s 66 years old. They’re all in the 60+ club except Castillo. As such, a few extended moments of down time were strategically placed throughout the set. But the momentum never faltered, as a steady supply of stage divers slipped past security and tumbled into the pit. Leading this swirling maelstrom was an impressive, athletic feat for a group that’s been on the frontlines of West Coast punk and hardcore from the beginning.
Below, check out some killer photos of Mike White, and head over to deadlydesigns.com for the full galleries.
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