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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Offspring Highlights Start of Punk Fest


Seattle grunge may be the heartbeat of current commercial rock, but young suburbanites still need heavy doses of pure, hard-core punk.

On Wednesday at the Hollywood Palladium, they celebrated the opening of the Epitaph Summer Nationals, a three-day, sold-out punk-rock extravaganza that will feature 13 bands and some 15 hours of unadulterated moshing.

In the kick-off show, teens in baggy mall shorts and boots slammed non-stop to five bands while large video screens showed images of skateboarders, body piercing and race car crashes.

Local independent label Epitaph Records, owned by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, is sponsoring the shows, which feature mainly the label's bands, including the opening night lineup of Offspring, Claw Hammer, Down by Law, Ten Foot Pole and the Red Ants.

Offspring, the charismatic Orange County quartet famous for its hit "Come Out and Play" (you know the line: "Gotta keep 'em separated"), proved it was much more than just a one-off novelty act. The group, whose album "Smash" is on the verge of platinum, was by far the best band of the crowded, sweaty and loud night.

Its songs are tight and lively, emanating the sticky kid-stuff appeal of Cheap Trick with the maniacal driving edge of Orange County's early '80s seminal punk group, the Adolescents.

Singer Dexter Holland, who dove into the crowd sporadically, whipped his tiny blond braids around and let out bitter-sweet, high-pitched lyrics about gangs, guns and ex-girlfriends. The band played anthem-like songs with catchy pop hooks, breaking up the inherent monotony of hard core with fast breaks, chants and clever guitar accents.

Saluting its roots, the group brought Jack Delague--the singer with OC's legendary TSOL--and backed him on a brilliant rendition of TSOL's morbid classic "Code Blue." Most of the crowd, who were probably still in diapers when Delague's band first banged out the song, slammed in delight, but went truly ballistic when Offspring later played "Come Out and Play."

The lesser-known opening acts served mainly as backdrop music for perfunctory moshing and crowd surfing.

Local band Clawhammer machine-gunned out a garagy-punk blend, bringing out mentor Wayne Kramer of the MC5 for a rendition of "Kick Out the Jams." Though the band lacked any truly meaty songs, it delivered some haphazard fun. The following quartet, Down by Law, was too grinding and monotonous, making headliners Offspring all the more worth waiting for.

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