By Alex Distefano
By Daniel Kohn
By Aimee Murillo
By Nick Schou
By Nate Jackson
By Nate Jackson
By Dave Lieberman
By Daniel Kohn
The Vandals now find themselves going full circle—with their younger fans.
"As our audience got bigger, we find that now we can throw some old songs out there—we actually play 'Pat Brown' now more than ever because we've lost the older crowd," Escalante says. "But it's still the same thing; newer people really aren't that interested when it's put up against the newer stuff. Some kids have actually gone back and discovered our older songs, but most people who do that are kids who are trying to be so different within the different scenes, which I'm not really interested in supporting—'I am in the unique, individual punk scene, and within that, I'm Mr. Old School Punk, and I'm 15.' And he thinks he's better than the people who like the newer stuff. Get over it."
In addition to their No Doubt connection, much of the Vandals' newer fan base can also be attributed to their alliances with the Offspring. During the pinnacle of Smash-mania, Dexter Holland did the band a favor by continually dropping the Vandals' name and taking them out on Offspring tours; he also wore a Vandals shirt in the "Self Esteem" video. To further help the band along, he made the Vandals one of his first signees when he started up his own label, Nitro.
Since 1995's Live Fast Diarrhea, their first Nitro release, every new Vandals album has sold more than the last. 1998's Hitler Bad, Vandals Good has moved more than 100,000 copies worldwide, and their latest, Look What I Almost Stepped In, will likely surpass that number, particularly since the track "Jackass," with its alluring, infectiously hooky bassline, has been getting steady airplay on some major-market alternative-rock stations—the first mainstream radio exposure the Vandals have ever had, outside of the rare KROQ spin. These days, that's nothing less than a miracle for an indie-label band.
The new album deserves to be heard, too—it's easily their poppiest, most potentially hit-laden disc yet, full of great, old-style punk licks and smart-assed smackdowns that the band has always been famous for, perfectly illustrated by "Behind the Music," a snotty, all-you-need-to-know primer of the evils of the record industry, which the band spews out in just under three minutes.
"Punk kids want bands to be releasing really good records frequently," says Escalante. "They like new music, and that's a really good environment for a band—especially an older band like us—where they're not dwelling on old material. They want to hear something new, and they want it to be better than the last record, and they have a low tolerance for mediocrity."
"Kids don't care about anything old," says Fitzgerald, "And I think that's healthy. If you're a kid and you love music, it should be relevant to your time. If you're going through your parents' record collection loving every bit of it, I think there's something wrong with that."
"We want to be relevant," Escalante continues, "and trying to be relevant to people half our age, that's not easy. That's when we basically become like birthday party clowns, entertaining these kids whose parents are ex-punkers. It's kind of embarrassing now when we meet parents who used to come to our shows, and now we're playing mostly to their kids."
A gaggle of some 300 people—yep, mostly kids—have jammed inside the Virgin Megastore at the Block in Orange for an after-hours set by the Vandals. It's the eve of Look What I Just Stepped In's release. Cops and security-guard types eyeball people suspiciously, perhaps a bit sedated by the strains of Paul McCartney's "My Love" that echo through the mall. The band soon comes out and starts throwing down their snarky pop punk songs both old and new—there's "I Have a Date" and "My Girlfriend's Dead" and "Jackass" and "Live Fast Diarrhea" (crowd: "LIVE FAST!"; Vandals: "DIARRHEA!") and "The New You" and even "Oi to the World" (though, at the time, it's only August). A green-mohawked kid tries shoving his way up front, just to get swiftly booted out—only polite, respectful anarchy is welcome here; sorry.
A teen girl in an I VANDALS T-shirt who wasn't fortunate enough to snag a pass for the show stands just outside the glass doors, mouthing the words to "Marry Me" while devouring a boxful of Krispy Kremes. The band is tighter than ever, even though a sub is filling in for Freese, who's off on a Perfect Circle tour. Fitzgerald starts going into his nasty-little-man routine, threatening to show his bum. Then I notice all the red signage around the store—THE 80'S ARE BACK, AND ON SALE!—of course, so are the Vandals. But some of these signs have this qualifier underneath: IT WAS COOL TO BE SUICIDALLY DEPRESSED, OR AT LEAST LOOK DEAD. Well, maybe the Vandals did look dead there for a spell. But on this night, at least, playing to a roomful of next-generation punks, the Vandals aren't merely alive, aren't just barely breathing—they're rocking. And still pretty damn vital, too. Not bad for a bunch of old dudes.
THE VANDALS PERFORM WITH THE AQUABATS, THE ATARIS AND ASSORTED JELLYBEANS AT THE SUN THEATRE, 2200 E. KATELLA AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 712-2700; WWW.SUN-THEATRE.COM. FRI., 7:30 p.m. $15. ALL AGES.