The Adolescents Walter's on Washington January 1, 2010
In a revealing scene during the seminal punk documentary Another State of Mind, Minor Threat plays a show to a swelling and heaving early 1980s crowd in Baltimore. The P.A. system was yanked away by worried sound engineers, but the band carries on with firm gusto. Starting with the refrains to their theme song "Minor Threat," the crowd and band become one, like impromptu voices joining in one tribal chant.
Similarly, the feral Adolescents crowd emblazoned the band's songs with their own off-kilter yelps Saturday night, even as a broken mike dangled from unfazed singer Tony Cadena's hand. That remarkable ethos of crowd participation, vented vitriol, and overall unity raged and rollicked until the midnight hour, when the blistered and bruised concertgoers dumped themselves onto the cluttered sidewalks.
Walter's on Washington, now an unruly wart on the cosmetic sheen of newfangled Washington Avenue, barely held back the ruckus. The thronging capacity crowd stirred up so much body heat that cameras fogged, sweat poured in buckets, boots and Converse slipped, and one could cut the air with a rusty butter knife.
After the set, the Adolescents retreated to a backroom easily mistaken for a tacky motel, where they huddled like soggy rags, as if half-traumatized by the relentless Texas melee.
Though the band has featured numerous musicians over the last thirty years, two stalwarts remain posted, giving the band an etched permanence. Smiling Steve Soto (also of Manic Hispanic and Steve Soto and the Twisted Hearts) is the amiable bass player whose fingers finesse every melodic chord culled from endless Beatles and Buzzcocks records.
Across from him always stands the forever Defiant One: Singer Tony Cadena. The public school teacher, respected writer, and bard of lost lads may offer up a voice as gruff as sandpaper instead of teenage howls these days, but he still imbues the music with keen intelligence and worldly perspectives.
The violence that Cadena evokes in their featured songs such as the trenchant "Wrecking Crew" is primarily twofold. The first symbolizes youth trying to mitigate the innate boredom and suffocating social order of the suburbs. As such, the tunes are anthems to primitive smash-it-up fun and survival, not an ode to punk-on-punk violence.
This was easily underscored during the performance, in which vintage skinheads, skinny MC5-inspired longhairs, agitated mohicans and ageless rockers all converged in the slam zone as Tony hunched over, tending to his rabid flock. If a literary allegory exists for this scene, it's Peter Pan, Cadena attests, not Lord of the Flies.
The other violence the Adolescents evoke is the power of authority - corporations, government, and parents, the triple threat to kids and free-minded adults. This includes the "stupid science world" of anthemic "Amoeba," which they launched with tenacity.
It also underscores their ode to homeless kids formulating their own morals in "Kids of the Black Hole" and the endless industrial ills catalogued in "Monsanto Hayride." Hammering home that track from O.C. Confidential, they lyrically denounced pesticides, mercury poisoning, growth hormones and the dark side of "amber waves of greed."
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Plus, to wrap up the set, they threw in token venom like the speedcore "I Hate Children" as well.
The superb treat of the night came in the form of the roiling "I Got a Right" -- Iggy and the Stooges' proto-hardcore fare -- which they unleashed during the encore's last minutes. Featured on their often overlooked gem Brats in Battalion, it is a bridge upon which the old and new generations dance feverishly, extending punk's grasp beyond the zero hour of 1976 to the bombast and factory blast of 1972 Detroit.
Though not all the crowd was equally aware of the history, it spoke loud and clear, nonetheless.
The Adolescents were no miming old stars mewling through the dank and ribald night; they were staunch soldiers of the American punk ethic, smart as heck and stoked to remember, and share, the gifts of their forbearers.