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Ronald Reagan was midway through his first term when the Middle Class last played live, but that doesn’t mean people have forgotten the band. At his Fullerton vintage store Out of Vogue, guitarist Mike Atta frequently encounters people who ask about his group. Singer Jeff Atta was recognized by a bank teller due to his appearance in the 2006 documentary American Hardcore.
The No. 1 question, the brothers say, is always when the Middle Class will reform. Now, they finally have an answer: The Attas, bassist Mike Patton and drummer Matt Simon are scheduled to perform as part of Frontier Records’ 30th-anniversary show at the Echoplex in Echo Park on Sunday.
The Middle Class formed in Santa Ana in 1976. (At the time, younger Atta brother Bruce played drums.) Two years later, they issued the four-song seven-inch Out of Vogue. The blistering drums, machine-gun downstrumming and maximum-words-per-verse vocal attack created a blueprint for a subgenre of punk that would later be called hardcore, but by the time that scene took off, the band had started to bail on their lightning-quick roots.
Vogue’s follow-up, 1980’s Scavenged Luxury, introduced elements of the burgeoning post-punk movement, a sound that dominated the group’s sole full-length, 1982’s Homeland. By 1983, when hardcore was dominating punk, the Middle Class had sort of said goodbye to it.
Reunion offers have been presented numerous times. There was the time the reunited Germs wanted their former bill mates to join them onstage. Or when fellow OC punks the Adolescents called from their tour in Florida to ask the Middle Class to be the surprise guest at a gig at the House of Blues in Anaheim. They were interested in performing at a Class of ’77 show at the El Rey in 2001, but the two-week notice wasn’t enough time to prepare, so the band declined.
“Every time we got an offer,” Jeff Atta says, “we’ve been given something like a week’s notice, and we hadn’t played in, like, 30 years.”
The difference between the aforementioned shows and Sunday’s performance has nothing to do with money or burying any hatchets among members. Rather, it’s a little thing called timing. Earlier this year, Mike Atta had Stage IV cancer, which required the removal of his left kidney. Atta is doing fine, he says, but he admits his flirtation with the Grim Reaper played a part in the Middle Class getting back together. The offer to play the Echoplex show came a few months ago, giving the Attas, Patton and Simon enough time to practice.
“It’s because I can,” Mike Atta says, “so why wouldn’t I? I might not be able to do it another time.”
The Attas assumed they’d be rusty, but even with blistered fingers, their initial practices went better than expected. With nearly three months of Friday and Saturday rehearsals under their belts, the Middle Class are ready for a 14- or 15-song set, a retrospective of the group’s career, with a focus on the earlier, faster material. They plan to play all the songs from the first two seven-inches, four songs off Homeland, plus a few covers they once did.
“It kind of seems like it’s the band,” Jeff Atta says, “but I don’t expect it to be exactly like it was when I was 20. We’re not trying to re-create punk rock circa 1978. This is our take on what we were doing back then.”
Having all four members in the same room has created an avalanche of memories, most of which deal with humorous recollections of the sort of juvenile naiveté that comes from being in a band.
“Mike [Patton] and Jeff worked at 7-Eleven,” Mike Atta says. “A guy used to come in there all the time, and Mike decided he should be our manager. Now, it’s like, ‘What were we thinking? Was anybody in control of this?’ And none of us was. We were happy that people liked us and we got to play.”
And if all goes horrendously wrong for the Middle Class’ one-off reunion gig, Jeff Atta says there will be at least one positive that comes from the event: “People will stop asking us when we’re going to play.”
The Middle Class perform with the Adolescents, Rikk Agnew, the Flyboys and the Pontiac Brothers at the Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 413-8200; www.attheecho.com. Sun., 4 p.m. $15. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "Did the Middle Class Invent Hardcore? No one can say for sure, but after 30 years, it’s about time the Santa Ana band reunited."