In recent years it's been looking like Antiques Roadshow out there, with so many classic '70s and '80s punk acts reuniting. Indeed, while rock music trembles through the hard times, its bastard step-genre forges on unfazed by diminishing prospects — since that's all it's really ever known.
Take, for instance, Orange County legends Adolescents, whose hooky, anthemic rock inhabits a space between the Circle Jerks' snotty swagger and The Descendants' punchy abandon. The band flamed out just two years after releasing its much-lauded eponymous 1981 debut album. A three-year, two-album reunion followed in the late '80s, while a post-millennium return has produced three albums in the last four years, each better than the last.
"It's like we're hitting our stride," says bassist Steve Soto, who co-founded the band with frontman Tony Cadena, establishing a partnership that continues on today. "Making albums is fun for us, not work. Some people put out records because labels tell them they have to. We're making records because we have these songs we want to play."
The band's latest, La Vendetta, was inspired by the death of Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old mentally ill homeless man who was beaten by police outside a bus terminal in The Adolescents' old home of Fullerton, California. The incident is recounted in the racing rave-up "A Dish Best Served Cold," featuring the chilling refrain, "Knock him down again."
"We grew up and hung out by that bus depot. None of us live in Fullerton anymore, but we went down there [to protest]," Soto says. "Tony ended up becoming friends with Kelly's father."
Other album highlights include the spirited "30 Seconds to Malibu" — which sounds like the Beach Boys set to kill — as well as the hard-moshing self-actualization ode "Talking to Myself" and the searing hardcore nuclear paranoia of "Fukushima Lemon Twist." They feature plenty of the band's signature call-and-response guitars, which were also a trademark of Soto's teenage band, Agent Orange.
"Mike [Palm] and Scott [Miller] got me Give 'Em Enough Rope by the Clash for my 16th birthday," he says of his Agent Orange cofounders. "I remember hearing that and thinking, 'I want to play in a band with two guitar players.'"
Soto's wish came true when sibling guitarists Rikk and Frank Agnew joined The Adolescents. Although the brothers have since moved on, their sound persists.
"Those interesting guitar hooks were definitely planned out and crafted; they're just as important as that vocal melody for us," he says. "Over the years a lot of bands have gone with that, especially the octaves thing, like Zach [Blair] from Rise Against. [NOFX members Eric} Melvin and Fat Mike call them the 'Agnew parts.'"
The musician still holds fond memories for that era in punk culture, before its drift into the mainstream, when you could still get beaten up for wearing a Mohawk and a leather jacket. "That dangerous element made us stick together," says Soto of the alienation that inspired much of the music while giving The Adolescents the resilience to keep at it.
"People dropped the atomic bomb on the major labels, and we crawled out from under the rocks," he adds.
"We're still here."