When T.S.O.L. blasted onto the Orange County punk explosion in 1979 with white face paint, 6’ plus frames and blazing punk anthems, they were automatically a force to be reckoned with. Their previous band, Vicious Circle, had already established themselves in the South Bay and Orange County with large crowds and several riots at historical venues such as the Cuckoo’s Nest and the Fleetwood. With the boost of the now classic Poshboy EP that introduced the songs “Superficial Love” and “Abolish Government”, TSOL picked up where Vicious Circle left off, but with an armory full of ammunition.
This enabled the band to spread it’s popularity around California, supporting heavyweights like The Damned and The Dead Kennedy’s in big cities like LA and San Francisco. By the summer of ’81, the band released the highly anticipated debut full length LP, Dance With Me (Frontier), which propelled the band to the highest echelon of Southern California punk status, and enabled them to headline 3000+ seat venues (ala the Hollywood Palladium) with bands like Bad Religion, Social Distortion and the Adolescents opening for them.
There were obvious reasons why TSOL was so huge so fast: They were cuter, their songs were catchier and their live show was a lot more energetic and fun then any other band going. They single handedly initiated the influx of girls into the early 80’s punk scene. With songs about fucking the dead, “Code Blue” and gothic punk ballads like “Silent Scream”, they became the first punk “phenomenon”; it was the “OC Invasion”.
Jack Grisham, Ron Emory, Mike Roche and Todd Barnes were four kids who grew up together in Huntington Beach; now they were the talk of the West Coast. The band moved on to Alternative Tentacles records, where they released the Weathered Statues EP, here they introduced the reggae-tinged “Word Is” alongside the blistering “Man and Machine”. That gave the fans something to chew on while the title track hinted at the direction the band was heading as they put together their masterpiece, their punk-opera so to speak: Beneath the Shadows. It was at this time when the band was featured in the motion picture “Suburbia”, directed by Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World, Decline of Western Civilization, etc.), a stark semi-documentary on the punk scene of early ‘80s Orange County. The band appeared both in the film and on the film’s soundtrack.
Beneath the Shadows (Alternative Tentacles), the band’s second full length LP, showed just how much the band had rapidly matured. It wasn’t a breakaway from their previous releases; it was a progression. The band added keyboards and the arrangements became more complex and stylized, it made one think that the London Symphony might be touring with them in the future. As other bands of their genre fumbled around “into the unknown”, TSOL forged a new sound, one that didn’t turn fans away, but made them even more numerous and rabid.
But with their enormous popularity, and their first tours, the foundation began to crack. Excessiveness and things that go along with “bigness” forced changes, including the departure of Jack and Todd, leaving behind a band that was well on the way, to instead regressing to a more primitive punk sound that quickly stagnated and alienated fans.
Today, 10 years since it’s last “reunion”, the band is back to give us what they gave then. “Superficial Love”, “80 Times”, “Code Blue”, “Wash Away” and the rest of those vintage punk nuggets will be blasted live into our faces again. Those who were not around to witness TSOL in their heyday can finally see for themselves why the band spawned a generation of bands and changed the shape of music today.