The chance to see Circle Jerks in 2021 felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, let alone seeing them with Negative Approach and Municipal Waste at a venue like Cat’s Cradle. The sold-out show was easily one of the best of the year for me, and believe me, it had some tough competition.
As soon as singer John Brannon took the stage, I knew what this set was going to be like; loud, aggressive, and everything you would expect from a legendary hardcore punk band such as Negative Approach. The nonstop set was accompanied by the start of a mosh pit, though it seemed the venue was not at capacity at this point, and the pit was nowhere near as large as it would grow to by the end of the night. Despite the seemingly smaller crowd, the band was on fire, with Brannon’s ferocious vocals on classics such as “Evacuate” and “Hypocrite” standing out.
Seeing Municipal Waste on this billing took me by surprise, but I am certainly not complaining as I’d been waiting for a chance to see the Richmond-based thrashers. They did not disappoint in the slightest, going straight into the rapid fire riffs and short songs the band is known for. A mosh pit opened like the parting of the red sea next to me and eventually led to a circle pit around a support beam in the middle of the room (a suggestion from singer Tony Foresta). The standout moment of the set was “Wave of Death ” in which Foresta commanded us in the crowd to crowd-surf a kid who couldn’t have been more than 12 years old for the entire song. Though material from their debut album has been absent from their recent sets, the band broke out “Substitute Creature” (with guitarist Ryan Waste sharing vocal duties) at the request of members of the crowd. The set finished off with a wholesome dedication to Foresta’s family, who apparently had been able to see the band perform only a handful of times over their 20-year span.
I want to preface this by saying that Circle Jerks started in 1979, and Keith Morris sounds the exact same as he did then. While the stage show may not have been as energetic as they were 40 years ago, I’m more than willing to let that slide given just how great they sounded after such a long time playing together. The Jerks started off with “Deny Everything” the opening track to their debut album Group Sex, and throughout the night performed the whole album with the exception of the title track. The pit for the Jerks was shockingly intense, and I quickly jumped in when my personal favorite song, “Stars and Stripes” was played 4 songs into the set. The 33 song long setlist was broken up by breaks where Morris talked to the crowd, making jokes and some comments about the Tar Heels, before usually being cut short by the rest of the band continuing with the show. The band finished out their set with an encore featuring classics “What’s Your Problem” and “Question Authority” to a cheering crowd.
I’m incredibly grateful that Cat’s Cradle was able to arrange having me as a press guest for this show, and I really cannot put into words how incredible the night was. Not only were the performances stellar, but I also got to meet some new friends in the punk community, which is personally one of the best things about shows finally being back after so long.