Entertainment, not revolution, is the Offspring's m.o.
If the Offspring proved one thing in their tour opening gig in Los Angeles this Saturday, it's that quality playing and entertaining can occasionally forgive songwriting mediocrity. Before a (maybe) three-quarter-capacity Great Western Forum, the second-generation punk veterans from Orange County churned out a respectable assortment of hits and freshies (from their just-released Conspiracy of One
) to rabid response from giggling TRL
Taking nary a breath through a frenzied opening salvo of "Bad Habit" and "All I Want" (from 1994's Smash
and 1997's Ixnay on the Hombre
respectively), the guys were immediately in fine form. Dexter Holland's voice, once an easy target for pitch sticklers, was surprisingly potent in all ranges. Thickly bespectacled guitarist Noodles hammered out the bands' signature riffage -- equal parts the Damned and Armored Saint. Standing midway up a stage set designed to resemble a wasting urban side street (graffiti, cracked faux-bricks), unofficial fifth member Chris "x-13" Higgins augmented the rhythm section with Latin-style percussion and swelled up the choruses with ample harmony.
To their discredit, the band has cornered the "some-guy-speaking-the-chorus-part" market and all three of the offending numbers were trotted neatly out for the fans. "Come Out and Play" came in early in the set, "Original Prankster" at the midway mark and "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)," a song that made fun of Vanilla Ice
five years after ribbing Ice Man was tired, was deemed encore material. Such novelties do wonders on the singles charts but the bands' greater strength showed in driving runs through straight-up rockers. "Self-Esteem" and "Gotta Get Away" set mosh pits deservedly whirlpooling as did a rollicking show-closer of new one "Want You Bad," the band's finest slice of pure pop-punk to date. However, "Gone Away," with its plodding progression and hopelessly goofy poetry ("I reach to the sky/And call out your name") has no place at a self-respecting rock show.
In a major coup, the Offspring actually succeeded in making the obligatory arena rock "funny part" funny. Following "Prankster," a neon-lit sign above the stage blinked, "Intermission." As Latin dance beats filtered through the colossal speaker towers, some fat guy (fat = funny) in a Speedo waltzed out to shake his ass and show us what he was working with. From cannons placed about the hall, ten trillions shreds of silver confetti shot out like a disco climax and coated the assemblage. Holland sat back in an inflatable love seat and watched the proceedings with a smile, then his bandmates rejoined him for that guiltiest of Beatles-borrowed pleasures, "Why Don't You Get a Job?"
Strangely, for a band that has sold tens of millions of albums the planet over, the Offspring hardly exude mega-stardom. Credit perhaps a lack of ego, but fault the absence of a truly magnetic member -- a la Billie Joe from Green Day
or even Tim and Lars from Rancid
-- for making the radio mainstays seem almost too lifelike. There's no thrill in being so close to the foursome, merely a sense of seeing some regular guys play buzzsaw chords. They are the Tonic
or Collective Soul
of punk: hitmakers sans individual starpower.
What's more, there's something almost wholesome about an Offspring show. The songs themselves, however amplified or breakneck, are rarely threatening. They're anthemic more in theory than in practice, meaning the choruses invite all to shout along (and people do) but what they're shouting isn't typically revolutionary or subversive. Perhaps it's the disparity between the median band and fan age (thirty-three to roughly seventeen), but Saturday's set was more a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party than a cathartic blowout for fan and band alike. Holland seemed distant from his own material, more concerned with a jolly good Saturday night than any emotions his own lyrics might resurface (this guy even makes the f-word sound kind). The singer's congenial stage banter ("Thanks for showing up," "This is awesome," "This rules!") and the band's moderately self-conscious stage presence (bassist Greg K is all but superglued in place) made for something decidedly less than urgent.
Written by GREG HELLER for RollingStone.com News