The story of Keith Morris, the band's lead singer, is essentially the story of the CJs. Morris began his career in 1977 as frontman for rage-punks Black Flag, and he appeared on that band's first EP, Nervous Breakdown (1978), before eventually being replaced by Henry Rollins.
Following his departure, he and former Redd Kross guitarist Greg Hetson formed the Circle Jerks, who, while retaining the sense of rebellion of Black Flag (against Reagan, suburbia, conformity, whattaya got?), added a healthy injection of humor, albeit supremely juvenile. (A sampling of the band's song titles says it all: "I Just Want Some Skank," "World Up My Ass," "Deny Everything.")
For their first three albums--Group Sex (1981), Wild in the Streets (1982) and Golden Shower of Hits (1983), which featured a "Stars on 45"-inspired medley, "Jerks on 45," as well as their contributions to the films The Decline of Western Civilization and Repo Man--the Circle Jerks were one of the most inspired hardcore punk bands around. They had a message and they rocked; they were the kings of the gross-out joke before the boys in Blink 182 were zygotes; they did punk rock parodies of schlocky tunes two decades before the advent of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.
And then, like so many other hardcore punk bands who were threatened by the rise of heavy metal in the '80s, they succumbed to the disturbing trend of punk-metal.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse than the band's 1995 take on the Soft Boys' "I Wanna Destroy You," featuring mall queen Debbie Gibson singing alongside Keith Morris, the bottom fell out. After suffering with a cold for far too long, Morris was finally diagnosed with adult onset diabetes. Soon after that he fell and broke a rib, then suffered numerous stomach and colon ailments that required several surgeries.
Like most musicians, he had no health insurance, but a bunch of friends, including the bands X, Pennywise and the Weirdos, plus Tool member Maynard Keenan, the Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes and Johnny Depp, put together a two-day series of fund-raising performances to help pay the medical bills. In addition, a Circle Jerks tribute album is in the works; artists set to make contributions include the Breeders, Fishbone, Mudhoney and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The now-46-year-old Morris has taken the last few years to nurse his body back up to snuff, and though he won't be able to engage in the flamboyant stage antics he was once known for, it's a minor miracle he's able to hit the road for the band's current tour at all. To reflect the revelations middle age has unfurled upon him, the youth anthem "Live Fast Die Young" will be absent from the band's set list this time around.
The Circle Jerks perform on Tuesday, August 7 at The Rock, 136 N. Park Ave. Doors open at 8 p.m., and 629-9211 is the number to call for more info.
MISERY LOVES COMPANY: Despite the fact that they once released a single with a cover of Freddy Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" on the a-side, and Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" on the b, Kansas City's Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys are about as far from "ironic country band" as you'll find these days.
While most of the current crop of alt-country acts tends to impart some rock-and-roll wisdom along with the twang, Rex and the Boys stay on the tried, true, traditional side of the honky-tonk fence on their latest, The Spectacular Sadness of Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys (Bloodshot, 2000). As Jon Pareles of the New York Times aptly puts it, "The jokes end with the band name and album title." They manage both to evoke Bakersfield and make you realize why Nashville mattered in the first place. All this, and every third or fourth song will have you two-steppin' on the dance floor.
Think Buck, think No-Show Jones, think whatever resonant-voiced sad sack of a country songwriter springs to mind--Rex writes and sounds just as authentic as the lot of 'em. And just like all great country songwriters, the guy's got a handle on the turn-of-phrase game: "Fool me once, shame on you / Fool me twice, I'm gone" ("It's My Turn") and "Forever is just a word used by all us fools / To convince ourselves that we will never, ever hurt again / Funny how forever always ends" ("Forever Always Ends"). Really great stuff.
Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys appear along with Caliche con Carne at 9 p.m. on Sunday, August 5 at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Admission is $5, and you can bring your own beer to cry into as long as you're of age. For further details call 884-0874.
STORM THE GATES: If you haven't been down to a Monsoon Madness show yet this year, you should probably do so right quick. Like other rites of summer--a Sidewinders game, for example--it's one of those things that you'll regret not doing once the lightweight sweaters come on. It's one of those few events that brings out a plethora of folks--punks, blue-hairs (meant to be two different groups), hippies, pre-teens, happy-hour parolees--all for one common cause: outdoor performances from two bands each Friday night. And hey, cheapskate, did we mention it's free?
The August schedule: Stephan George with The Conrads on August 3; Landis with Chango Malo on August 10; DJ Seth Miles with Oslo on August 17; Liberty School with Amber Jade on August 24; and The Beating with Stella on August 31. All Monsoon Madness shows are from 7 to 9 p.m. on Fridays at the Winsett Outdoor Performance Center, 316 N. Fourth Ave., and all are welcome. For more information call the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association at 624-5004.
PREMIUM BLENDER: If you're partial to feel-good reggae, as far as latter-day standards go you can't do much better than Everton Blender, who will hit town this week in support of his latest full-length, Visionary (Heartbeat, 2001). The album illustrates the rose-petal-smooth tenor of Blender skipping effortlessly from dancehall rhythms to lovers' rock crooners, and demonstrates just how successful Blender has gotten at using his limited range to suit a tune.
Everton Blender appears on Tuesday, August 7 at Twelve Tribes Reggae Shop, 345 N. Fifth Ave. For more information call 620-1810.
ROULEZ, Y'ALL: The Plaza Palomino Courtyard Concert series continues this week with a performance from "The Crown Prince of Zydeco," C.J. Chenier and The Red Hot Louisiana Band. C.J., who grabbed the baton from his daddy, Clifton Chenier (who just so happens to be the legendary pioneer of the zydeco sound), inherited his father's band upon his death in 1987. Since that time he's incorporated a decidedly bluesy edge to Clifton's song-based (as opposed to riff-oriented) zydeco style. No less an authority than Living Blues magazine declared him "the best living zydeco singer and accordionist." Expect to hear older favorites as well as songs from his Alligator release, Step It Up!, just released this week.
C.J. Chenier and The Red Hot Louisiana Band perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 4 at Plaza Palomino, at Fort Lowell and Swan roads. Advance tickets are available from Antigone Books, Brew & Vine, City Grill, Enchanted Earthworks and Hear's Music. To charge tickets by phone or for more information call 297-9133.
LET US PRAY: Two current San Francisco-based acts and one formerly of SF (now residing in Phoenix) will congregate for a show being billed as "Music to soothe, stir and shake your soul--Scenes to stimulate your eyes and head." The Reverend Screaming Fingers and Phantom Drummer will provide both composed and improvised music performed primarily on guitar and drums (with a sampling of loops and keyboards thrown in) that the duo compares to Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Pink Floyd, Nels Cline and the Who, while filmmaker Thad Povey will project montages of found film footage simultaneously. As for the newly settled-in-Phoenix, that would be guitar-pop band Ramona the Pest, who will open the show.
It all goes down at 8 p.m. on Friday, August 3 at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. Cover is $6. For details call 670-9202.
CIRCUS FREAKS: Harder than anything you're likely to hear on KFMA, Colorado's Pinhead Circus has expanded its skate-punks-on-malt-liquor shtick into full-fledged catchy riff-driven songs on its latest album, The Black Power of Romance (BYO, 2001). Lyrically, the album falls squarely under the emo umbrella, with the band's former sense of humor pushed aside. I guess that's what they call maturity, right?
Check out Pinhead Circus along with I Decline and 9 Lives at 8 p.m. on Friday, August 3 at Skrappy's, 201 E. Broadway Blvd. Admission is $6 at the door, and all ages are welcome. For additional info call 620-1824.