Last Night: Agent Orange At Fitzgerald's
In the 1987 21 Jump Street episode "Mean Streets and Pastel Houses," fresh-faced Johnny Depp goes undercover as a punk to root out vicious gangland teenage thugs lurking in the inner city. He ends up at a rowdy punk concert roiling with slam-dancers crashing and banging in choreographed chaos as two-bit Hollywood actors lip sync to none other than... Agent Orange songs.
That fictionalized punk-as-pathology and dirty glamour may live long on YouTube, but Agent Orange's real ethos is not about being aural wallpaper to point-blank nihilism and senseless violence. Instead, they convey what it means to unmask false promises and struggle in the heart of a stifling suburban wasteland, where mallification thrives and young kids cope with endless blandness, boredom and consumption.
Just note their declaration of dissent on "The Last Goodbye," which decries people, both "exquisite" and uniform, that are so duped they don't even question authority, like Stepford Wives. As the band hit the first notes Sunday night at Fitz's, the crowd surged, egged on by a conjoined alienation.
As such feelings festered during the late 1970s, restless people like singer Mike Palm began to meld his affection for residual art rock like Brian Eno and Roxy Music with the surf music that his older siblings once stocked up. The new West Coast sound he gravitated towards was the angry, smart, female-led Avengers, wild dogs The Germs, and proto-hardcore contemporaries Middle Class, who lived nearby in the Inland Empire of sleepy Fullerton, Calif.
With a knack for melody and harmony, Agent Orange married punk's insistency with true tunefulness, an ability to graft hooks onto lyrical terrain about not wanting to die, "Too Young to Die," or in turn, seeking risky adrenalin rushes and vengeance, like "Bloodstains," which still causes an audience to catapult in a frenzy.
In the process of making their chunk of history, Agent Orange battled the "senseless minds" of 'normals,' like parents and studio engineers, as well as the changing tides of the underground punk music scene itself, which quickly ceded musical freedom and experimentation to lean, mean, marshaled beats made for a "bunch of goons with matching leather jackets," as Palm once intoned.
Perhaps that's why they inject their brand of punk with whiplashed Jefferson Airplane ("Somebody to Love"), Johnny Rivers ("Secret Agent Man"), and more recently, streamlined and amped-up Screamin' Jay Hawkins ("Whistling Past the Graveyard"), all resurrected Sunday night.