Rock ‘n’ roll reunions are fickle things for audiences. When done correctly, they can be like greeting a long-lost friend, but when the wrong band reunites, they can be met with all the enthusiasm of receiving a call from a telemarketer right during your favorite TV show. Luckily for Southern California punk band Agent Orange, it has been the former rather than the latter.
Formed in the late 1970s in Placentia, Calif., Agent Orange is the brainchild of lead singer/guitarist Mike Palm. During the fertile Orange County punk scene that spawned bands like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, Palm and the rest of Agent Orange distinguished themselves from the pack by merging another Southern California musical genre—surf guitar—into their steady eight-note-and-downstroke sound. The sound became known as “skate punk” due to the band’s following among skateboarders.
But times change and skateboarders grow up, so when Agent Orange came to Asheville on short notice last February, the band was greeted with a small, if highly enthusiastic, crowd. These fans seemed to long for a blast of punk-powered adrenaline to remind them of their halcyon days, and the band delivered. The trademark power chords and surf riffs erupted from Palm’s guitar, and it seemed like everything old was new again. While the crowd rose up to eagerly welcome the fond memories that came with the band’s most popular material (“Bloodstains” and “El Dorado”), they greeted the band’s newest material with the same zeal—a rarity among reunion acts.
From the stage, Palm (who, due to a family emergency had to pass on an interview with Xpress) remarked that the past year has been the most successful and busiest in Agent Orange’s near 30-year history. Finally, punk rock’s rewards seemed to be not just ideological for the band, but also financial.
But none of the band’s past successes and present itineraries matter to fans. What does matter is Agent Orange’s music. The band’s brand of street-level nihilism is remarkably danceable, and they offer a rare combination of surf guitar that isn’t repetitive and pop-punk that isn’t nasally. It’s enough to make even the most stoic fan get off their bar stool and shake their wallet chains.
To hear Agent Orange is to hear the good things about punk rock; the youthful spirit, the energy, the attitude and the sheer unadulterated fun. But to see the band live is to realize that the attitude that defines punk rock doesn’t have to stop at 25. The philosophies and ideals instilled in their music still have a fundamental truth to their fans, even if they’ve left behind the safety-pin-based fashions.
When Agent Orange takes the stage, fans will sing along to the songs, their words the equivalent of a punk-rock mantra. Those songs, although written a quarter of a century prior, have survived the fickle whims of the counter-culture, shattering the disposable image of punk as something to be bought and sold from a Hot Topic rack. Agent Orange has survived, and thank goodness for that.
[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Sylva, N.C.]
who: Agent Orange with Nasty Ponies
what: Surf-infused, old-school California punk
where: Rocket Club
when: Monday, Aug. 25 (10 p.m. $10. www.therocketclub.net)