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ALT.ROCK.OC: 20 YEARS OF SUBURBAN STRUGGLE

Essential Albums, '78-98

A lot of music has come out of Orange County over the years. To fully grasp the arc of the punk-alternative scene, you need an earful of history.

December 31, 1998|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

T.S.O.L. changed its sound with every record. "Weathered Statues," a 1982 EP, featured a reggae-punk number, and "Beneath the Shadows" was drenched in rainy romanticism accented by glistening piano and synthesizer shimmers. The album disregarded punk's sonic and attitudinal boundaries and effectively ended the punk chapter of T.S.O.L.'s career.

Grisham left in 1983 (with drummer Todd Barnes in tow), to pursue an always-interesting but commercially marginal career fronting the bands Cathedral of Tears, Tender Fury and the Joykiller.

Guitarist Ron Emory and bassist Mike Roche kept T.S.O.L. going with fresh recruits Joe Wood and Mitch Dean, but the band steered toward bluesy, hard rock that told tales of gritty street life and eventually courted the proliferating late-'80s heavy-metal audience.

T.S.O.L. toured prolifically, including an opening slot for Guns N' Roses. But first Emory, then Roche, dropped out, and the band broke up in 1991. In 1990-91, a temporary reunion of the four original members, with quick cash the primary motive, yielded a series of shows and a live album of oldies.

THE VANDALS

"Peace Thru Vandalism" Epitaph, 1982

Every court has its jester, and in Orange County's punk/alternative castle, the Vandals have long been the foremost crew in motley.

Sardonic humor was a frequent staple of O.C.'s early punk bands, but this Huntington Beach group, mentored by the Crowd and T.S.O.L., made it a mission.

Since 1980, the Vandals have stood out for their willingness not only to mock the usual authority-figure suspects, but also to puncture some of punk culture's own pretensions and idiotic excesses.

The Vandals hammered out "Peace Thru Vandalism," their six-song debut release, during a single night. The bleary-eyed band emerged from that night's work with not just a record, but also a folkloric artifact. The EP's most famous song, "The Legend of Pat Brown," immortalized the real-life rowdy punk fan who "tried to run the cops down" rather than submit to a police traffic stop outside the Cuckoo's Nest in Costa Mesa.

Other highlights are sendups of punk decadence ("Wannabe Manor") and punk's knee-jerk anti-authority stance ("Anarchy Burger [Hold the Government]"). The Vandals would later play against punk type by performing at a fund-raiser for the Orange County Young Republicans.

Singer Steve Jensen, known simply as Stevo, was an enthusiastic 18-year-old clown. The other core members were the band's founder, guitarist Jan Sakert (who went by the stage name Jan Ackermann, in a spoofing nod to the fleet-fingered guitarist of the yodeling Dutch progressive-rock band Focus) and drummer Joe Escalante.

The Vandals' next move, in 1984, was to spoof funk and rap music, on "Ladykiller," from their second release, "When in Rome Do as the Vandals." It became a novelty hit on KROQ-FM (106.7) and landed the Vandals a series of unlikely opening slots for rappers Grandmaster Flash, LL Cool J and Public Enemy.

Stevo was gone by 1985, fired for excessive drinking. "I was an incredible drunk. But it was incredibly punk to be incredibly drunk," Jensen said several years later.

It was the first step in a complete retooling of a band that now features singer Dave Quackenbush and guitarist Warren Fitzgerald, with Escalante on bass and Josh Freese on drums when not otherwise engaged as one of alterna-rock's leading session men.

Unchanged is the Vandals' franchise for poking fun at everything--an approach that in the '90s has kept the band busier than ever, including tours as an opening act for the Offspring and No Doubt.

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