Pop Music Reviews : Offspring Takes More Chances--and Reaps the Rewards

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Offspring, Orange County's hard-core-punk offshoot, isn't just a garage band anymore, as the group's suffocatingly packed show Thursday at the Whisky revealed.

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In fact, the 7-year-old, four-member band, which came out of O.C.'s surf-rat rock scene, is beginning to get radio airplay nationwide, a rare occurrence for even the most hyped of indie rock bands.

The Offspring was inspired by such early hard-core bands as T.S.O.L., Agent Orange and the Adolescents. But unlike a lot of its current-day peers, it doesn't just ride the wave of nostalgic punk.

Instead, the band takes more chances, adds long-haired rock riffs, pure power chords, poppy kid stuff, a little funk and actually sings rather than machine-guns out lyrics.

The band is on the tiny Epitaph label, started by members of L.A.'s Bad Religion and home of the equally popular but more conventionally hard-core band Pennywise.

Unlike the more straight-ahead political and social comments made by its label mate, the Offspring tackles the frustration of living in conservative suburbia.

Kids responded to that angle when alternative-rock radio station KROQ-FM put "Come Out and Play," a song off the Offspring's third album, into high rotation. The album, "Smash," has gone on to sell 75,000 copies.

The Whisky was scorching hot on Thursday and packed tighter than any show in recent memory, as the band played its first local show since "Smash" was released earlier this year.

After a long delay, the group came on stage and launched into a fiery number about a crazed freeway shooter. The crowd immediately broke open into a massive slam pit that consumed most of the lower floor.

Singer Bryan Holland, his long blond hair in tiny braids, unleashed flexible vocals seemingly with ease. His charismatic voice went from shrill, Robert Plant-like highs to bratty, attitude-laden Circle Jerk-type sneers to poppy-sweet harmonies of Cheap Trick. He was backed by anthem-like shouts of his band, pumping up the strength of already catchy choruses.

"We do have more than just one song and one album," Holland said after the group did "Come Out and Play." But the crowd seemed to know more than just this year's material. Rarely a song was played that at least a third of the audience didn't shout along to.

The music went from booming hard-core to fast pop and sometimes even a tinge of '60s garage rock. The band kept the energy level consistently high and held the songs together in tight, neat blasts.

On album, the Offspring is good but less dimensional than it proved to be live. It may just be the band is unable to capture that abandon on disc yet, a small ailment that experience may cure.

The band's fun, teen-age rock is charismatic enough to take it beyond a hard-core crowd but never so compromised as to alienate its base of Angst- hungry fans.

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