In 1981, 5 teenagers from Orange County came together and recorded one of the most influential American punk albums of all time. The band dubbed themselves The Adolescents, a fitting name for their snotty, hyperactive style of music. Their self-titled “blue album” exploded them onto the scene, only to see the band break up a year later. Over the years, different incarnations of the original lineup have tried to resurrect that original energy and intensity that went into their first record, with mixed results. Now, 25 years later, The Adolescents have reformed and re-released their phenomenal debut and are touring in support of it. I was lucky enough to see them when they recently came through The Trocadero Theater in Philadelphia.There’s something ironic about watching a bunch of middle-aged men on stage performing under the name “The Adolescents,” a description that would have more appropriately described a good majority of the crowd. In addition to the kids who hadn’t even been conceived by the time the Adolescents’ original lineup called it quits, there were some old-timers lurking around the bar who probably remembered when “the blue album” first came out. The crowd even included a few punk rock parents with their kids in tow, in a unique sort of family bonding.
Of the original lineup, singer Tony Reflex, bassist Steve Soto and guitarist Frank Agnew are still on board driving the band forward. Derek O’Brien, an audio engineer who has played in bands such as Social Distortion, DI, and Legal Weapon (the latter two bands featuring ex-Adolescents members), now sits behind the drum kit. When Frank’s brother Rikk, the other original guitarist from their debut LP, wouldn’t agree to return to the band and go on tour, Frank did the next best thing and kept it in the family, recruiting his son (and Rikk’s nephew) Frank Agnew Jr.
Opening their set with “No Way,” the crowd was immediately pumped as Tony shouted “No class, no job / I’m just a victim of society a slob.” They followed up with a new song and then the raging “L.A. Girl” with scathing lyrics all that more poignant in the wake of TV shows like “The O.C.” and “Laguna Beach.” The band then played some more classics from their debut including “Democracy,” “Rip it Up,” “Who Is Who” and “Creatures” scattered between material from their new album O.C. Confidential, of which only the track “Lockdown America” really stood out. Tony made frequent trips from the stage to the floor so that kids could sing along.
Towards the end of their set the Adolescents kicked into their anthem “Amoeba” with Tony “fishing” for a crowd sing-a-long with a long mic stand. The crowd was more than happy to oblige. They wrapped up their set with two of the most memorable songs from their early years, “Wrecking Crew” and “Kids of the Black Hole.”
The band had yet to play one of their most recognizable tunes, and the fans were quick to demand an encore. Sure enough, they came back out on stage and went straight into “I Hate Children,” the song that started it all on their debut back in 1981. From there they went directly into a rendition of the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy,” a song that came out when the members of the Adolescents were young and impressionable themselves. That high-energy cover closed the night, and the fans looked satisfied all around.
Over the years, the Adolescents have lost some of their original edge. The playing was top-notch on all the songs, but at his age Tony Reflex has outgrown most of his characteristic snotty voice, sounding more NYC hardcore like Agnostic Front than early L.A. By far the highlight of the night was definitely Frank Agnew Jr’s playing. One would think he would be intimidated playing hits written before he was born in a band with his dad, but his stage presence was full of energy and enthusiasm and he handled the majority of the solos of the evening with ease. Growing up in a musical family has served him well!
Among the string of bands jumping on the “20 year reunion tour” bandwagon, the Adolescents certainly were able to hold their own, giving a new generation a chance to see some of the best punk to come out of southern California played by its originators.