The Offspring – Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Where: Shepherd's Bush, West London
There seems to be a trend nowadays for bands to revisit albums and play them live in full - recently bands as diverse as The Cure, Idlewild and Iron Maiden have all brought records out of hibernation and dragged them, kicking and screaming, back into the light. I’m not really quite sure what to think about this fad - I feel like it ruins some of the mystery of a live gig. Part of the fun is not knowing what tune the band is going to pull off next - whether it’s going to reinvent an old favourite or unearth a tune they rarely play live. However, if all bands play album-gigs with as much energy as The Offspring did when they invaded London this week, then I’m 100% behind it.
The Offspring are bona-fide legends of the American punk scene. They’ve been going since approximately the dawn of time, and have produced some of the most well-known pop-punk songs around. This current tour is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of Ignition, their second album. Though not quite as well known as Smash, it’s still a fantastic album, and one that I personally grew up listening to avidly.
So taking the stage at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, the band started with the fierce anti-love song ‘Session’, and ploughed the whole way through at breakneck speed. Listening to them play, I was struck at how fresh the album still sounds. In many ways pop-punk has been watered down over the last two decades, losing much of the lyrical ferocity for which punk is known, a charge which can be levelled at later Offspring albums as much as any other. However boarding the time-machine back to 1992 the anger still shines through clearly in many of these tunes. ‘No Hero’, a song about a friend’s suicide, still devastates with the lines “Johnny was a weirdo son/so what did you expect/I ain’t no fucking hero/I’m just trying to survive myself” and the supremely vicious LAPD (chorus: “beat all the white trash/beat whoever you see/don’t need a reason/L.A.P.D) drew frenzied screams from the audience. In fact, anyone who only knew Offspring’s later, more pop-based material would have wondered what exactly they had walked in on! Mixing socio-political anger, plenty of drug references, fierce guitars and a healthy dose of swearing, Ignition is a reminder that The Offspring once wore the ‘punk’ label with pride, and didn’t need to add the ‘pop-’ prefix.
And that was only half the show - after a quick break they were back on the floor again, this time diving through the rest of their back catalogue. There was a healthy cross-section of all their albums, digging deep into the archives for a song from their first album (‘Beheaded’) and looking ahead with a pair of tracks from their new album ‘Days Go By’. They finished on a triple-whammy of ‘Pretty Fly’, ‘The Kid’s Aren’t Alright’ and ‘Self-Esteem’ - and I’m pretty sure every single person in the audience had shouted themselves hoarse by that point.
I always feel with punk gigs like this, you can judge the quality by how life-threatening the mosh pits are. Due to a minor snafu with tickets, I was perched right up the top of the place in the gods, which meant I had a birds-eye view of some of the most brutal moshpits I’ve ever seen. The only time they stopped smashing each other in the face was to throw up the horns and sing along.
One negative thing I did note down was that the band themselves didn’t quite have the energy I would have expected of them. They weren’t really jumping around too much, and lead singer Dexter Holland just looked... a little bit tired t’be honest. However I did some research after the gig - the three main members are 46, 47 and 49 years old! So y’know what, I’m not going to criticise them for that: instead I salute them for still rocking out at that age!
Middle aged or not, it was a fantastic display of punk rock by some true royalty of the rock world. They may not have been a British band, but it was certainly the best way I know of celebrating the Jubilee, and in fact I’m pretty sure I saw Her Maj down in the moshpit, leading a Wall of Death during ‘Come Out And Play’. Well, you never know.