X, Dead Kennedys, the Avengers - MOCA at the Geffen - 1/28/12
(Much) Better Than ... hearing many of these same songs butchered on punk rock karaoke night at the local sports bar.
Of course there's something oddly oxymoronic about a museum inviting punk rock bands over to play (albeit safely outside on the patio). In the very early days of punk, X and the Avengers were blacklisted from most rock nightclubs, much less museums, and their fans were often beaten up by cops just for walking down the street. Not to mention that back then a lineup like this might've cost $3 at the Starwood, as opposed to the $50 and up ticket price tonight at MOCA.
By definition, punk was anti-nostalgic and wasn't meant to last long enough to be examined in a clinical setting, if only as a defiant and/or hopeless reaction to the literal and long-winded monopoly classic-rock groups like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac had (and still have) over the radio airwaves. There's a reason why X's first concert movie was called The Unheard Music, and why so many of their brilliant early L.A. peers (the Screamers, Black Randy & the Metro Squad, Rhino 39, Ella & the Blacks) were rarely or barely documented at all.
On the other hand, the connection between punk rock and the art world is long, with a lot of seminal shows happening in warehouses and galleries, and a significant number of musicians coming straight out of art school. Raymond Pettibon first gained notoriety drawing hilariously sacrilegious flyers for his brother Greg Ginn's band Black Flag before becoming a respectable artist whose work is shown in museums -- including tonight at MOCA, as part of the related "Under the Big Black Sun" exhibition, named after X's third album.
The Avengers' Luis Illades, Penelope Houston & Greg Ingraham
Such questions of authenticity and identity -- eternal themes in both art and punk rock -- were enough to drive one crazy, but they were rendered moot within the first few explosive chords of the Avengers' set. Although founding members Penelope Houston and guitarist Greg Ingraham are primarily performing songs they wrote more than three decades ago, there is still a bracing immediacy and exhilarating defiance in the melodic yet spirited way Houston belts out anti-authoritarian anthems like "We Are the One" and the rabidly timeless "Teenage Rebel," or declares, "It's the American in me that makes me watch the blood running out of the bullet hole in his head/It's the American in me that never wonders why Kennedy was murdered by the FBI!"
The Avengers' Penelope Houston
Prowling the outdoor stage in ripped tights and a Pink Section T-shirt, Houston looked every bit the charismatic, strikingly fearless punk icon who directly inspired a generation of riot grrls. The tragic true tale "Car Crash" ("a song about L.A.," Houston told the crowd) lived up to its title as she wailed inconsolably while Ingraham smashed together a series of increasingly chaotic chords.
The Avengers' Joel Reader, Penelope Houston & Luis Illades