Five years' worth of increased popularity. Five years of increased anticipation. Five years of increased anxiety.
That's what has accumulated between the last time Suicidal Tendencies played before a "hometown" audience and its concert on Sunday at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center.
In that time the Venice-based band has grown from its punk roots into a leader of the speed-metal/skate-thrash genre. But plagued with a bad reputation--allegations of gang ties and related violence at concerts--the group has not been able to get a Los Angeles-area booking.
This show, which sold out the 5,000-capacity hall, was considered something of a test of whether the band could return to Los Angeles stages.
By all accounts--from security officers, promoters and the band itself--it passed. Early in the set, singer Mike Muir declared confidently, "We're going to take this to L.A., because we're not having any problems."
Perhaps boosted by a combined sense of relief and triumph, Muir and his four bandmates delivered a commanding show. Newer anti-hypocrisy numbers like the KNAC-FM favorite "Alone" and older punk songs like "I Saw Your Mommy (And Your Mommy Is Dead)" were played with power ranking with the best speed-metal bands, all linked by Suicidal's trademark sudden shifts between impulse power and warp drive.
Equally impressive was the scene on the arena floor: The mosh ring and slam pits that have become de rigueur and pro forma at so many post-punk and new-metal concerts really had the sense of legitimate release and celebration that has been a part of the rock 'n' roll experience since the '50s.
But the greatest triumph was that despite all the apprehension, ST could come back to Southern California and conduct business as usual, an assessment confirmed by security personnel: As the show drew to a close near midnight, UCI Campus Police officer Linda Robert shrugged and termed the event "normal."
Before the show, though, Robert noted that the precautions being taken were anything but normal. Stationed near the front of the long line of mostly young people entering the concert, Robert watched for signs of potential trouble.
"They've added extra officers and security for the event," she said. "We're looking for anything, mainly weapons like chains, knives, guns of course. We have gang detail officers here from different jurisdictions. We've already identified several gang members."
All people entering the show were subjected to two searches, including one with hand-held metal detectors.
"The band knows if they trash this place, they won't be playing the county again," Robert said.
On Monday, Campus Police Chief Mike Michell reported 11 arrests for trespassing and alcohol violations, a figure higher than at previous concerts held at the facility, but "within the range we had hoped" for this concert. A number of knives and daggers were confiscated, but no guns were found. The only reported injury was a broken leg, apparently resulting from the full-contact slam dancing.
"We were pleased we didn't have any serious conflicts," Michell said.
So now on to L.A.?
Jennifer Perry, who oversaw the concert for co-promoter Avalon Attractions, said as the show ended that she could now see no reason why not. Gary Tovar, head of Goldenvoice, the other co-promoter, suggested that the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium is a possible site, though some close to the situation expressed concern that the proximity to Venice could result in a larger gang turnout from the band's home community.
But Tovar, surveying the many fresh faces in the crowd, pointed out that in the past five years the makeup of the ST audience has changed. Whatever troublemakers there may have been in the past are now a small minority that proper security measures can control.
"This band hasn't played L.A. since KNAC became a metal outlet," he said. "These kids are getting their first chance to see them."