Last Night: T.S.O.L. at Fitzgerald's

Photos by Nathan Smith

T.S.O.L., Spastic Fit, Dead to the World, Crime Wave Fitzgerald's September 4, 2012

It seemed as though I was the only Rocks Off blogger who failed to catch a show over Labor Day weekend, so I was looking forward to Tuesday night. This summer has evolved into something of of a punk-rock history course for me, beginning with the Descendants at Free Press Summer Fest and continuing with 30footFALL, Spunk, Poor Dumb Bastards and more at the When We Ruled H-Town showcase a few weeks back.

After checking out some of Houston's finest contemporary punks at Fitz two weekends ago, including Skeleton Dick, Bury the Crown and Hell City Kings, the notion of wrapping up the summer by returning to the roots of West Coast hardcore with another group I'd never caught before, T.S.O.L., was too good to pass up.

Dead to the World
Dead to the World

The crowd was slow to arrive at Fitz last night -- no real surprise for a Tuesday, I suppose. The stragglers missed a blistering opening set by local three-piece Crime Wave, who did their best to deliver the ultimate shredder soundtrack. The band's hyperspeed bursts of hardcore were quick enough to be augmented by snatches of both "Raining Blood" and "Breadfan," but the young punks up front seemed a little confused by the group's Dick Dale-style surf licks on one tune.

When Crime Wave lit into the silly, speedy "William Shatner's Dick" and "Fashion Assassinate," however, the small crowd still gathering knew just what to do, erupting into the first of many manic slam pits of the night. Personally, the band's neck-snapping riffs left me sorely tempted to find an old 1980s wide-deck skateboard and finally learn how to ride the damn thing.

Next up was Dead to the World, purveyors of a more anthemic strain of punk that featured bassist Brandon Lyday and guitarist Mohawk Steve trading vocal duties. I noticed several young ladies in the audience that definitely did not appear to hate the way these guys looked, but their music was difficult to resist, too. My favorites from their set were the sing-along-ready "The Lonely" and a new song, "War." What is it good for? Skankin,' that's what.

Last Night: T.S.O.L. at Fitzgerald's

Though aggressive in sound, the first two bands were made to look downright civil by the antics of Spastic Fit frontman Darrell Steinkuehler, who jumped, pranced and crawled about the stage as if he'd consumed enough sugar to supply a Mexican Coca-Cola bottling plant for an Olympiad or two.

"Put away your phones! Put away your laptops!" he yelled. "Live life now! Have some fun!"

One microphone was apparently insufficient for these purposes, because Steinkuehler must have gone through every mike in the joint, double-fisting them when possible and becoming entangled in numerous cables and stands in the process.

"Please stop wrecking my shit," said a nonplussed-sounding sound lady over the monitors, leading to a round of semi-sincere apologies. But the crowd responded nicely to the chaos. Spastic Fit's frantic, barely controlled sound was the perfect energizer to prepare the audience for the punk-rock legends to come.


Last Night: T.S.O.L. at Fitzgerald's

By the time T.S.O.L. took the stage, it was looking like only a decent crowd for a Tuesday night -- nothing to Tweet home about, as it were. But as soon as the SoCal punks flipped the "on" switch on "World War III," the dancefloor exploded. Weeknight crowd or not, those in attendance appeared ready to pick up any and all slack for their missing comrades. People had been bouncing off each other all night, but all of a sudden, dudes were circle-pitting with a look of furious purpose in their eyes.

Singer Jack Grisham, by contrast, never stopped smiling all night long. Attired in a natty suit with a red bandana tie, the imposing frontman bantered and joked easily with the crowd, whom he treated like old friends. One quickly got the impression that listening to him talk might be just as entertaining and hearing him sing.

Original bassist Mike Roche wasn't with the band on Tuesday. I didn't catch the reason why, but I'm fairly certain that it was Trevor Lucca of Jack Grisham's LOST Soul that was handling the low end. The four-stringer's comparative youth -- he was a mere boy when T.S.O.L. originally formed in the late '70s -- proved a fertile source of material for Grisham.

"I retired before Trevor was even born," he cracked.

After the singer pointed out Lucca's bizarrely mismatched socks, some wit in the crowd yelled out, "Only queers wear matching socks!"

"Queers, really? It's 2012," Grisham replied without skipping a beat. "Then I guess my mother is off somewhere sucking cocks right now, because her socks are always matching."

Last Night: T.S.O.L. at Fitzgerald's

I could type another few hundred words on the stories and jokes that flowed from the stage Tuesday, but there was music, as well. The band inspired wild thrashing with hardcore classics like "Man and Machine," but they weren't afraid to slow things down and get a tad weirder, either. After an entire set time's worth of mooks in the crowd yelling out requests for "Code Blue" and "Abolish Government," a kid up front shouted out "Silent Scream," and incredibly the band obliged him.

Grisham failed to recall probably half the words to the strange little deathrock number from the group's Dance With Me album, but the audience instantly forgave him. The tune hadn't been played in six years, he explained. Pretty cool story for the guy who requested it.

The other requests were honored, as well, in due time of course. Before destroying the place with "Code Blue," Grisham and the band reminisced about playing Houston for the first time in 1981 at the Island. That place may be long gone now, but if T.S.O.L. can return in such fine form after so many years, who knows -- maybe there's hope for the Island, too.

Personal Bias: I'm not ashamed to admit that I got my first taste of T.S.O.L. via Slayer's Undisputed Attitude album of covers.

The Crowd: Young skaters, day-job punks and grizzled lifers.

Overheard In the Crowd: The music was loud and I couldn't hear shit. It was nice.

Random Notebook Dump: Hey, guy? Yelling "Slayer!" in between every song is the same as booing. Knock it off.

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