Saturday Night: TSOL At Walter's On Washington

TSOL Walter's on Washington May 7, 2011

In the dramatic, razor-sharpened lens of TSOL songs, suburbia is far from a sleepy wonderland bedecked with slick malls and coiffeured lawns. Those tracts of same-samey homes are chock-full of demons such as singer Grisham himself, who wandered the bland wasteland of the American dream in the early 1980s like a priest of peril to the lost boys, misfits, and rebels.

With the musical heft, prowess, and punk-gone-Goth shadings of the band backing him throughout these treacherous territories, Grisham always projects a persona that seems like a large amalgam: He's a Lenny Bruce-style iconoclast, a suave but demented Chris Isaak, and a nihilist vis-à-vis The Joker, not to mention a mouthy raconteur who can easily stir stories about Tesco Vee of the Meatmen, the Black Panthers and unemployment between jokes onstage.

Starting in 1980, TSOL pushed aside the art-school cadres that shaped new music in Southern California, injecting big doses of Huntington Beach hormones into punk rock. Like Agent Orange and Social Distortion, though, they didn't succumb to the choleric "fast and lean" rules of homogenized hardcore.

Having soaked up earlier waves of bands like the Germs, they favored something more poetic and fertile.

After imploding after just a handful of years, Grisham steered bands such as Cathedral of Tears, Tender Fury, and the Joykiller, but the reformed TSOL, who have seized the last decade with a hard grip, have remained invigorating and promising, delivering worthy music just as punks from their own generation, like Keith Morris and Mike Watt, chiseled and honed their own late-period ruckus. Both periods, new and old, of TSOL melted into a fierce onslaught Saturday at Walter's on Washington.

Since TSOL's beginnings, Grisham could deftly balance anti-political countercultural harangues ("Abolish Government/Silent Majority") with narrative structures more reminiscent of 19th-century masters like Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker on songs like "Silent Scream."

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David Ensminger