Live Reviews

Agent Orange – Live

Camden Underworld,
London 18/04/2009

Gigs start ridiculously early at The Underworld. We made our way down at 7.30pm and a band had already played apparently. It’s very deserted. At least there are a few more punters in the building when Section 13 (from Leamington Spa) get going and belt out 20minutes of fast ‘n tuneful hardcore that recalls elements of Dag Nasty, and a decent cover of Minor Threat’s “In My Eyes” kinda rams home the point… do ya fuckin’ get it??!! Point of interest; Section 13’s singer Ian Murphy fronted ’80’s UK Hardcore acts The Depraved and Visions of Change, and at 44 is still a commanding energetic frontman.

Next up, Love and a 45, who I have seen in the support capacity previously… and with minimal personal impact. Their (ever-so) punk-lite really does not hit my spot. To their credit, the singer commands the stage like Beki Bondage, hollers like Courtney Love, and they work hard at what they do…

It’s been a good 10 years since I last saw Agent Orange. I was planning on seeing them last autumn but the tour was pulled at the last minute. Then, a few days ago, their gig in (my hometown) Brighton was cancelled when striking French fishermen blocking channel ports saw the band stranded in Calais. So, tonight is definitely a case of third times the charm.

At some ludicrously hour (9.15pm) the headliners plug in, greet the by-now strong crowd, and break in to a powerful rendition of The Chantay’s ’63 instrumental “Pipeline”… perfect. Although never gaining the larger cult status of their Orange Country contemporary’s (Social Distortion, Adolescents, TSOL) Agent Orange’s influence has in fact been huge. They put the skate in to punk, and were paying homage to, and exposing, their Southern Californian surf music roots a zillion years before the likes of Quentin Tarantino brought these sounds to the attention of the mainstream in film scores.

Their hour long set packs in pretty much all their best known songs, stretching right back to their earliest recorded track (from ’79) the frantic proto-hardcore “El Dorado“, and all of their epic 1981 debut LP “Living in Darkness” whose 8 songs are some of my favourites, ever. The delivery of these classic numbers was exemplary, and I sang my heart out to the likes of “Everything Turns Grey“, “No Such Thing” and “A Cry for Help in A World Gone Mad” where frontman, guitarist and AO founder Mike Palm’s vision of sharp precise punk anthems fused with a dark surf undertow still sounds incredibly fresh a quarter of a century later.

Too Young to Die” is dedicated to “the creepiest guy” Mike ever met, Lux Interior of The Cramps, whose rocking bones departed this earth a couple of months ago. The punk momentum is broken up momentarily with more instrumentals; The Bel-Airs “Mr Moto“, and a belting version of “Miserlou” where they are joined on second guitar by their merch guy, the very dapper Laramie Dean… this is easily one of the highlights of the set. I must also mention drummer Dusty Watson who pounded the skins to a pulp, the power coming from his kit was thunderous.

Their best known song (and debut single) “Bloodstains” was reprised late on, and instantly sent the crowd in to a slamming frenzy. This is surely one of the greatest punk songs ever… we rightly lost our minds. To close… what else but “The Last Goodbye“. And then that was it. A killer set over. The jackbooted Underworld security forced us out pronto to clear the decks for Saturday night clubbers. We walked tall in to the chill Camden air mighty satisfied by the memorable music Agent Orange had filled our ears… “everybody’s asking me what it’s like down there, the concrete floor is cold, the walls are bare“…

Pete Craven