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OFFSPRING MAKE US PROUD : Smash Hit of Home-Grown Band Speaks Well for the Local Scene Too

<i> Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition</i>

The Offspring return to their Orange County home turf this weekend, having acquired most of the trappings of rock stardom.

Among them are MTV omnipresence (via the band’s breakthrough video, “Come Out and Play”) and, just four months after its release, the platinum certification (over 1 million copies sold) of the Offspring’s new album, “Smash.”

Calling last week from a gig site in Minneapolis (the First Avenue club of “Purple Rain” fame), the band’s co-founder, bassist Greg Kriesel, reported that singer Bryan Holland has had to resort to semi-disguise--concealing his distinctive, long blond braids beneath a baseball cap--to get some respite from autograph seekers. Kriesel also confirmed that the Offspring--two of them, anyway--have joined the Keith Moon club, having worked off the pressures of the rock ‘n’ roll road with room-trashing behavior that got the band evicted from hotels in Virginia and Illinois. If that isn’t rock stardom, what is?

While the Offspring were out on their six-week summer tour of 500- to 1,500-capacity venues, “Smash” rocketed toward the Top 10 on the Billboard albums chart (earlier this week it was at No. 11 with a bullet). Virtual unknowns until KROQ began pumping “Come Out and Play” in April, the Offspring have come so far that, in Orange County pop annals, their success on the albums chart is now surpassed only by the Righteous Brothers, who rang up a remarkable string of three Top 10 albums in 1965-66.

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In the realm of independent-alternative rock, the Offspring’s sales are unprecedented. While independent rap labels have scored numerous chart hits, the Offspring are the first band on an independent-alternative rock label (Epitaph Records) to have gone platinum without at least a distributional push from one of the major record conglomerates.

The Offspring’s sold-out show at UC Irvine’s Crawford Hall on Saturday is their first headlining gig in Orange County since fame struck (in June, they played a short but rapturously-received set at Irvine Meadows on the KROQ “Weenie Roast” bill). The homecoming show is not the end of the road for the band, just a pit stop during a nine-day, between-tours break. Kriesel said the Offspring would use the time to rest, shoot their second video, “Self Esteem” (a sardonic tale about a guy who lets himself be trampled upon in love), and gird themselves for a monthlong European tour. Another six-week U.S. tour is set for the fall, this time in theaters holding 2,000 to 3,000 fans. Kriesel said the Offspring also may tour in Australia and Japan.

Not bad for a band that, as recently as December, could draw no more than 150 fans to a club gig in Fullerton.

The Offspring took root in 1984 when Holland and Kriesel, two buddies from the cross-country team at Pacifica High School in Garden Grove, decided to start a punk band. Their main inspirations and influences were such early-'80s Orange County punk heroes as Agent Orange, the Adolescents and T.S.O.L.

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Unlike such punk-rooted local contemporaries as the Cadillac Tramps and Big Drill Car, the Offspring never attracted a large following in the sparse Orange County club scene. But they had the good sense to hit the road in search of an audience. In 1989, they set off on their first cross-country tour in Holland’s pickup, sleeping in schoolyards and public parks.

Their 1990 debut album, “The Offspring,” was on the tiny Long Beach label Nemesis Records. It led to a deal with the highly regarded Epitaph for 1992’s “Ignition,” which, by early this year, had raised the Offspring to legitimate-contender status in what appeared to be a solid but limited punk rock market where sales of 150,000 would be considered a major hit. “Ignition” also gave strong, if sporadic, indications of the winning, melodic-punk songwriting that informs every song on “Smash.”

With the new album having shocked everybody by living up to its name on the charts, the Offspring now play to a fan base far beyond the hard-core underground of punk partisans who came out for previous tours.

“Last night we had these two 30-year-old motorcycle guys,” Kriesel reported. “One brought his 9-year-old son. Actually, they were kind of annoying. They got on the bus and wouldn’t go away. They kept singing the one line (the ‘you gotta keep ‘em separated’ hook from ‘Come Out and Play’) and hugging Ron. The father and the friend wouldn’t leave us alone.” A band lunch break at a fast food restaurant in Virginia was interrupted when a girl recognized Holland and asked if she could bring in her entourage--a busload of people on a church outing--to meet the band. The Offspring managed to duck that request.

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Kriesel said that he and Holland were asleep in other rooms when the two hotel trashings took place. In Virginia, he said, Ron Welty, Kevin Wasserman and some of the road crew hurled a chair and a bed’s headboard over a railing and into a parking lot, which led to the whole entourage being ousted before dawn and forced to sleep on their bus. Similar revels by the same duo, joined by members of opening act Guttermouth, led to another eviction in Chicago. Kriesel said that he and Holland were not amused at being rousted from their beds by police officers.

“The next morning (after the Chicago incident), there was a note with a cartoon showing the desk people crying and us with beers in our hands,” Kriesel said. “It said, ‘From the crusty old Meat Puppets.’ We think they were staying in the same hotel, and they heard about it. Bryan and I had a little talk (with the errant band mates) the other day: ‘You don’t need to be doing this, because it’s affecting a lot of other people.’ ”

By consistently citing their geographic and musical roots in Orange County, the Offspring are doing what they can to have a positive effect on a local music scene long overshadowed by Los Angeles and dismissed because of a prevailing stereotype of Orange County as a strait-laced, suburban Stepford incapable of spawning authentic rock ‘n’ roll.

The Offspring took Guttermouth, a band of their O.C. punk rock buddies, as opening act on their U.S. tour, and also fit Big Drill Car onto the bill for nine of the dates. Kriesel said that he and Holland used a chunk of their first royalty check from “Smash” to fund their own label, Nitro Records, which is about to release Guttermouth’s debut album.

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There is speculation that the Offspring’s success could have a ripple effect on the rest of the Orange County rock scene (where promising bands are as plentiful as stable, high-quality grass-roots venues are scarce), and in the wider world of melodic-punk.

“They say it’s going to start a new scene,” Kriesel said. “But it still comes down to whether a band comes up with a good record. It could help a band get a foot in the door. It seems like things are turning around for the better.”

* Who: The Offspring.

* When: Saturday, Aug. 20, at 7 p.m. With the Red Aunts and Farside.

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* Where: Crawford Hall, at Bridge Road and Mesa Road on the UC Irvine campus, Irvine.

* Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to the University Drive exit, go south to Campus Drive and turn left. At Bridge Road, go right. Crawford Hall parking is on the left.

* Wherewithal: The concert is sold out.

* Where to call: (714) 856-5000 (box office) or (714) 740-2000 (TicketMaster).

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