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Monday, April 15, 2013

Redd Kross @ Cactus Club

April 13, 2013

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Though born of the same Los Angeles punk boom that spawned Black Flag, The Circle Jerks and The Germs, Redd Kross has never been as easy to define as their more notorious peers. They seemed always slightly out of time with the more harsh, hardcore sounds of the City of Angels in the early ’80s, both literally (the brothers at the core of the group, Jeff and Steven McDonald, were only 15 and 11 respectively when they formed the band) and figuratively, gravitating as much towards power pop and twisted bubblegum as pure speed and aggression. Paradoxically though, they also epitomize the eclectic strangeness of LA in those days, when everyone from The Screamers and The Go-Go's to DJ Rodney Bingenheimer and “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening was making the scene, and while they’ve travelled their own path musically—one distinct from their peers—it’s never taken them too far from good old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll, up to and including last year’s aptly titled Researching the Blues, the band’s first album in 15 years.

Although the record’s been a long time coming, the fans haven’t gone anywhere, and more have been recruited with a long string of high-profile festival gigs starting in 2006, when the band broke an extended period of inactivity that began in the late ’90s. It’s stirred enough demand here in Milwaukee for the Cactus Club to make advance tickets available online, and to easily pack the house, though, predictably, it was mostly with a certain generation of listeners (if you can’t trust anyone over 30, there wasn’t an honest man in sight). Regardless of their age, their enthusiasm was obvious; the crowded backroom was abuzz with expectant chatter, last-time-I-saw-them recollections and some impatient, ironically inclined guy shouting, “While we’re still young!” That ship may have sailed, but when the band finally greeted their audience, they were dressed as if they were still young, looking very ’80s between Jeff’s pink shirt and grey suit, Steven’s battered Big Star T-shirt and everybody’s glammy hair.

Unsurprisingly, given this was the last night of a long tour, the band was a little hoarse, but they certainly weren’t holding anything back as they tore into a set loaded with deep cuts, like their version of the Charles Manson/Beach Boys tune “Cease to Exist,” interspersed with plenty of Researching the Blues, which slots nicely alongside the rest of their catalogue despite the age difference, especially the charging title track. The band may be getting on in years, but it doesn’t really matter, because the music, whether it leans toward raw punk, sophisticated power-pop or proto-metal hard rock, is imbued with that timeless rock ’n’ roll spirit that always seems to have just turned 16, in a way similar to The Ramones or Cheap Trick. By the time the band finished an encore of early songs, including “Annette’s Got the Hits” in honor of the recently deceased Ms. Funicello, and the excited pressure inside the Cactus was released, Redd Kross had not only proved that they still have it, but that what they have never goes out of style.

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