Lucky for us, the so-called decline of Western civilization that birthed hardcore punk rock in the early 1980s didn't play out as feared. Thirty years later, beer is still served cold, parking meters now take credit cards, and musicians from the era when American punk harnessed suburban anger to birth the subgenre called hardcore are working the oldies circuit.
One of its chief Los Angeles misanthropes, Lee Ving, survived intact, as evidenced by his gig Saturday with his long-running band Fear at the Whisky A Go Go.
Through a few dozen punk sprints, Ving and the three-piece backing band stirred hardcore's embers to a multigenerational posse of slam-dancers as part of the West Hollywood club's run of 50th anniversary celebrations. The 63-year-old singer, guitarist and actor Ving, looking fit with a full head of black hair and a chiseled face, dredged up his work in a historic room that stunk of ale and unwashed men.
But, then, the man-smell stands to reason. Fear was the ultimate man-punk band, issuing hetero-macho missives about destruction, city living, beer ("Have a Beer With Fear"), the problem with women, beer ("More Beer"), male genitalia, the problems with New York (tuberculosis and homosexuals, among his other concerns) and beer ("I Believe I'll Have Another Beer").
Through a half-dozen albums, each a decline on the last, Ving and company spewed fiery chords, beats, opinions and observations designed to incite. The best of them were on "The Record," the band's 1982 breakout debut. (Bafflingly, the band released a rerecorded, far lesser version of "The Record" in 2012.)
"Let's have a war," Ving bellowed in his song of the same name while listing many exaggerated reasons why armed conflict is good for the country. "I Don't Care About You" saw him spit out snapshot moments of his indifference to humanity. "I Love Livin' in the City," Ving's ode to cockroaches, stench and suburban scumbags, was delivered with heavy-handed sarcasm, so much so that the line between parody and truth started to blur.
Such gray-area confusion has long accompanied Fear. Critically polarizing, the band was seen by some as opportunists latching onto L.A. punk and poking at the self-seriousness surrounding it. When Ving and band famously crashed "Saturday Night Live" in 1981 with the help of fan John Belushi, they became the face of a thriving scene. Where X worked out sexual politics through the back and forth of Exene and John Doe, and the Germs traded in nihilism and Black Flag in suburban malaise, Fear delivered harsh parody disguised as dude-friendly idiocy. Or maybe it was idiocy disguised as parody.
When it came to pure punk action Saturday, Fear was unimpeachably powerful at the Whisky, especially during "We Destroy the Family" and "Gimme Some Action," two of the band's better exclamation-point bursts of rock. Longtime drummer Andrew Jamiez ended up shirtless after a few songs with good reason.
Ving is a born dirt-disturber, and he's carried that with him over the years. He still gets a kick out of offending, and he gleefully, lewdly pushed buttons and incited reaction at the Whisky. He sounded like Archie Bunker on "The Mouth Don't Stop (The Trouble Today With Women Is)." He presented himself as a know-nothing bigot in "New York's Alright if You Like Saxophones." In "No More Nothing," Ving went existential by imagining a world without, among other essentials, Walter Cronkite and Newsweek magazine. (The horror, the horror.)
And "Beef Bologna"? Well, let's just say, processed meat has never sounded less romantic.