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Surf rock and its offspring, surf punk, have been a part of the American musical repertoire since the 1960s – a scene born in Orange County, California and first brought to the ears of the masses by its originator, Dick Dale, that continues to thrive and produce new music to this day.

Orange County paid a visit to the CLE Tuesday night via some unofficial representatives. The Atom Age, from Oakland, opened the Grog Shop show. Their sound is definitely punk, but its structured like R&B, more bounce than thrash.

The crowd filled up quickly for Guttermouth, a long-time favourite of SoCal punk fans in the Midwest.  Singer Mark Adkins was as sarcastic and brutal as ever, giving everyone shit from audience members in the front row (“Is that vintage or thrift store?” on a fan’s unusual clothes) to his guitar player’s facial hair. “Asshole”, “She’s Got The Look” and of course, “1-2-3 Slam!” made it into the band’s set. The boys are energetic and in-your-face, character traits that have gotten them kicked off tours, even banned from countries, but completely endear them to their fans.

The Queers have been blending the pop-punk sound with rock sensibilities since the 1980s. They’re the most technically well-skilled musicians on the bill, as evidenced by their ability to play their lightning-fast melodies in complete harmony between four players and sound completely tight while doing it.

Headliners Agent Orange featuring founder/vocalist/rhythm guitarist Mike Palm took to the stage around 12:25 a.m. rolling through a greatest-hits-type set featuring “Too Young To Die”, “The Last Goodbye” and “Everything Turns Grey”, ironic considering the age of some of us in the crowd. “Bloodstains” is their most popular song and brought out the most eager crowd sing-along of the night.

No offense meant to the bands, but the best part of the show? The audience. From the minute I arrived at the Grog, I knew it was going to be a good night. Other audience members greeted and smiled at me; only the nice chap in cargoes who kissed my hand had any ulterior motives. When people needed to get past me, I had a hand on my shoulder and a voice saying “excuse me” as they moved past, even the boys hurrying in to the pit. When I needed to move through, people accommodated where they could, squeezing themselves in a little tighter or stepping out the way. Bartenders raised shot glasses with their regulars, strangers engaged in random conversations, and a mildly-inebriated 70-year-old man in an Agent Orange T-shirt hilariously took the piss with staff in a conversation the journalist in me wishes I’d recorded.

Punk rock pits can be brutal to the body, more arms than legs, but rules of basic human etiquette still apply and everybody gets out safe and exhilarated. Participants were careful to not slam into the rest of the stage-front audience, and just like in football, you never lead with your head.

To the bands’ credit, they were pretty nice, too. Mike Palm stopped to talk to PressureLife after the gig. He told us he’s a big Indians fan, and recalled a moment from a tour stop in Cleveland in 1994: “There was a game that night, and we told [the other bands] what we were doing, and we said, ‘Don’t freak out if we’re running late, we’ll get the first cab back, we’ll try to go on on time, but if we’re a few minutes late, you’ll know why.’ It was a free hat night, and the game went in to extra innings, and we showed up really fucking late. I was wearing the hat that I got at the game, and I just walked onto the stage and everyone starts clapping. Not only did I get to show up late, but I got extra applause for wearing the hat.”

The conversation ended up on football, with poor Mike complaining about having the Chargers and the Rams as his local teams before a reminder that he is in Browns territory and we have no sympathy here. He then went to meet with fans and sign autographs. The main item he was given to sign? A skateboard.

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