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

August 18, 1994|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition

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.

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.

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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