The Dickies and the Circle Jerks hearken back to the early days of L.A. punk and hard-core. But the predictably chaotic Valentine’s Day scene they inspired Sunday at Anaheim’s Celebrity Theatre hearkened even further back to the days when the pagan courtship rites of Rome hadn’t yet evolved into the Christian holiday of love.
History books tell us that the festival in ancient Rome called for eligible bachelors to lay on blows with strips of hide, and for young women to seek out a whipping, in the belief that it would promote fertility.
The celebration at the Celebrity--turned punkers’ palace for a night--called for contact in general among slamming, stage-diving fans whose dance had less to do with St. Valentine than St. Vitus. For much of the show, there was also plenty of contact between the punks and a cordon of bouncers who lined the stage after a flimsy plywood barrier succumbed early on. (The more prudent majority of concert-goers watched from the safety of auditorium seats).
The way the two bands reacted amid the frenzy said a lot about their mind-sets and musical personalities. The Dickies relish silliness and have spent the past 10 years playing virtually everything for laughs. To them, the sight of fans rushing the stage in waves and being thrown back like the Ayatollah’s kamikaze children’s brigades was evidently right in tune with the absurd nature of things.
Singer Leonard Phillips, weed-thin behind the bulky security detail, got out a self-deprecating one-liner of the situation: “If you get out of hand,” he cautioned the crowd, “you’re going to have me to answer to.” Stan Lee, the elfin lead guitarist, skittered between his large protectors like a scatback looking for daylight, pausing to play whining solos at the stage apron. Together, this Flo and Eddie of punk and their three band-mates spun out a set of tuneful, if monolithic, blitz rockers that made for 50 minutes of lightweight fun.
The Dickies opened with Phillips quoting Bullwinkle and finished with a heavy-rock version of the “Gigantor” cartoon theme, which about covers the alpha and omega of their thematic concerns.
In between they raced through enthusiastically rendered old favorites and threw in a few new tunes, including the metallic title song from “Killer Klowns, " the forthcoming Enigma EP that marks their recording comeback after a five-year lapse. Aside from a campy slog through Gene Pitney’s “Town Without Pity,” the new songs didn’t signal any departure from the Dickies’ familiar fast-and-silly approach.
With their penchant for topical thundering, the headlining Circle Jerks aren’t the sorts to let absurdity pass with a shrug and a smirk. After watching fans and bouncers collide for 10 or 15 minutes, singer Keith Morris called timeout and offered a snarling proposal: the band would order the bouncers to the wings if the stage divers would stay clear of the Jerks’ equipment and not clog the stage. Like many of the Circle Jerks’ lyrics, it was a sensible idea put across in a way that is overbearingly self-righteous and blunt.
Morris’ ultimatum didn’t exactly establish calm, but it did reduce the chances of confrontation and injury. His long rant did the band good, as it immediately pounded through “All Wound Up,” where rhythmic lurches and turns made up for the Circle Jerks’ lingering aversion to melody.
Morris defused the otherwise potent “Killing for Jesus” by pausing too long to weave his narration of a Mideast scenario around the song. But the Jerks hit maximum thrust by the end, with songs--especially their own “Tell Me Why” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son"--that proved that hard-core can be more than an excuse for body-banging if lightened by just a glimmer of melody. The most impressive banging of all came from Jerks’ drummer Keith Clark, whose attack was mighty, precise and unflagging.