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The Circle Jerks Celebrate 40 Years of Group Sex

Punk Rock has been around a long time in the realm of music. Grown out of garage rock and birthing bands you idolize and just wish you could get to see. Unfortunately, many on that mantel will stay there as the chances of them back together are slim to none or the world has lost members to their passing. However, we get lucky and are fortunate enough to see members come back together to celebrate an anniversary or just because they missed it. This brings us to the Circle Jerks back in action and celebrating the fortieth anniversary of their first album Group Sex. It was planned for 2020, the proper anniversary year, but plans changed due to Covid with the tour starting in 2021. The Phoenix date would see one more postponement from last October as Covid continues to rear its head around their tour and the entire music scene. The stars finally aligned this June night, and they finally made it to the Van Buren in Phoenix to celebrate with the Adolescents and Negative Approach.

Up first was a band I’ve only seen in smaller rooms, Negative Approach. This is belting lyrics, fast paced hardcore punk rock. In the old school vein of minute to two-minute songs, you may lose track of already being on the next song if you aren’t paying attention. Singer John Brannon goes from this serious look to belting lyrics with ease. Harry, on guitar, spends the entire set with his back to the crowd while Ron, guitar, got a more into that bass playing through the forty-minute set.

John finished the set by saying “Fuck the Supreme Court,” in reference to the earlier overturned Row Vs Wade decision and sentiment of the room. This was a band that the gap between last time I watched them was just long enough to be surprised to hear their hardcore style kicking things off. Negative Approach was the perfect way to energize that room and open a show.

Middle of this lineup was another long-time running band, The Adolescents. This marks my second time seeing them since the world lost punk rock legend Steve Soto. The first time was out at Punk Rock Bowling in 2019 with the Adolescents playing with the backdrop of the name “SOTO” in the blue album style. Taking his spot is the long tenured in punk and hardcore, Brad Logan, from F-Minus and Leftover Crack. If somehow unfamiliar with him, that experience spearheads a fantastic replacement at bass for the band.

Tony, lead vocals and original Adolescents founder, referred to songs Steve wrote and how they continue to miss him. Dan Root was on the other side of the four piece this night and as emotive as ever. Probably why he fits in perfectly when he fills in for the Gimme Gimmes too. The set included tracks like “Let It Go” and “Just Because” and the trademark “Amoeba.” Bringing many around me to pumping their fists and banging their heads as they sang lyrics along made clear that this Adolescents set was the perfect setup for our next band.

Then was the long-awaited moment to see the Circle Jerks for many in the building, with a few first timers and a few reminiscing on the last time they saw them more than a decade or two ago. This is a coming together of band founders Keith Morris and Greg Hetson and their second guitarist to join the band, Zander Schloss. On drums they recruited one of the best in punk rock, Joey Castillo, that most would know from the Bronx.

They would squeeze in thirty-three songs into the over an hour performance. The count would turn into a Keith Morris discussion point later about how Zander was adamant about a three-song block in a set where they only do five song slots. For their encore, Keith’s first words would remind everyone they only played thirty songs and were told there would be thirty-three so they are back out for three more. The set itself included everything from songs off their anniversary album Group Sex mixed around others from “Wild in the Streets” and “Coup d’Etat.”

We got that energized, talkative Keith Morris between each set of five song. Greg Hetson looked like was just having a blast up there. To be fair, I don’t know if there is a band I have watched that Greg doesn’t look excited to be playing. He was up there jumping around and smiling. While less jumps, Zander looked equally happy to be playing opposite side of the stage.

Joey’s expressions showed he was enjoying every moment of playing with these legends of the genre. Everyone on stage looked like this was where they wanted to be. Watching everyone during their performance and as they left the Van Buren, it looked like the Circle Jerks delivered a set many will remember fondly. It will forever be one of my favorite concerts I’ve attended.

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