Playbill

The year is 1979. Punk rock has seized a fearful public eye, forming base camps in the UK and the East Coast. London bands like the short-lived but immortal Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks have established a buzzing dissonant sound; East Coasters like the Ramones have made their signature with fast, grinding tempos. The West Coast, however, hasn't spoken up. Yet.

In Los Angeles, Keith Morris has been tooling around with a band, Black Flag, when he decides to try out a similar sonic experiment with Redd Kross's former axman, Greg Hetson, then Lucky Lehrer on drums and Roger Rogerson on bass. In keeping with the punk trend toward vile and offensive band names, the foursome adopt the moniker Circle Jerks, a term used to describe the act of a group of young men forming a circle and masturbating (edgier still a handle than the Sex Pistols). By 1980 the Circle Jerks release Group Sex on Frontier Records, another naughty title. Alongside Black Flag, X, the Germs and other punk compatriots, the West Coast -- at last -- has not merely spoken up but screamed at the top of its lungs in its own individual idiom. Violently twisting, skanking and slamming, hardcore is ripped from California's loins.

The Jerks release a hefty handful of albums scattered over a couple of decades (including a couple of tracks on the famed Repo Man soundtrack, one of which being acoustic long before the early-'90s "unplugged" phenomenon) and tour erratically, making the opportunity to see the old-school punks a hardcore delicacy. The current reunion tour -- Morris and Hetson paired with current members Zander Schloss on bass and Keith Clark on drums, both since '83 -- is their first in seven years and barely lasts a month. Consider yourself lucky the Circle holds Houston in high enough esteem to "slip us in" between Emo's in Austin and the House of Blues in New Orleans (and pardon the Black Flag reference). In Dirty Harry's words, do ya feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

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Eric A.T. Dieckman