Agent Orange: 01.08.2011

It’s no secret that punk music has undergone a pretty strange philosophical facelift over the past thirty years. On nights like this, it’s not necessarily as noticeable as you’d think, but still just as profound when you’re seeing a band whose ethnic, dreadlocked lead singer you could have sworn said, “This song is about Apartheid,” only to realize he actually said, “This song is about a bar fight.”

Not ironically, drunken aggression was the underlying theme of the entire night. The failed season of the New Orleans Saints, whose stunning playoff shutdown had only occurred several hours earlier, was still looming heavily over the entire town.  There was a surprising lesson to be learned here: Don’t attend a punk show on the night the Saints get booted from the playoffs. “Do people like that even care about the Saints,” asked a boozed-up mathematician I was talking to after the show. The answer is apparently a resounding “Yes”.

Checkpoint Charlie’s, which I would have otherwise thought was a strange choice for this concert given its claustrophobic live set up, became a rowdy barroom packed with over a hundred of the most violently drunk people in the city of New Orleans that night. When I say I met one person that was sober enough to form a sentence, I mean that literally.  It was truly surreal to see it all in action. People were stagediving from what really wasn’t a stage at all into a crowd that had become nothing more than a pit of punches, slippery drunks, and little girls being hurled across the room. At a certain point, the stage divers weren’t even trying to land on people; rather they were cathartically flying straight to the floor. When everyone is this dangerously intoxicated, consider it pure magic when the night’s only real damage is a guy with a bloody lip and half a dreadlock being pulled out of a chick’s head.

Soon into the Agent Orange set, it would have been a fool’s errand to find footing and maintain it. I just accepted the fact that I was in the side-stage mini-pit, threw some shoulders at dudes much bigger than me, and protected my camera.  However, Agent Orange, the reason we were all there, was by no means an afterthought to the rowdiness that characterized the night. They ripped through nearly their entire career in about an hour and forty-five minutes, covering even lesser-played songs like “America” as well as an array of covers.

In fact, the set was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in years, both in terms of technical musicianship and in maintaining live intensity after thirty years in the game. Central member/guitarist Mike Palm spent the entirety of the show moving seamlessly from hard punk riffs to dizzying, noisy surf solos like he hasn’t lost a step since day one; bassist Perry Giordano had a punch on stage that did justice to the sound that original member James Levesque essentially pioneered in the eighties.; and drummer Dave Klein brought a hard energy to the set reminiscent of when Mario Rubalcaba reinvigorated Rocket from The Crypt for a short time in the early 2000s.

Admittedly, an Agent Orange “Thirty Year Anniversary” Tour isn’t something that I would have lain awake at night waiting for. As my friend Jacob said after the show, “I kind of forgot about Agent Orange”. However, I now thoroughly understand why the band decided to resurrect itself for a national tour. Between Agent Orange’s perfectly raucous live set and the absurdly roughhouse audience, that was about as visceral and authentic as I’ve ever seen punk rock.

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