Pennywise has a lot going well for them. They have pumped out an album almost every three years since 1988. They all still live with families where they grew up—the South Bay of Los Angeles. And the fans still show enough support to fill the Hollywood Palladium for three-straight nights.
Not only that, the punk rockers played a different album from beginning to end each of those nights. On Thursday, the self-titled album (1991). Friday, Unknown Road (1993). And on Saturday night, About Time (1995).
And even though all four members are either nearing or eclipsed age fifty, you could not tell unless you looked it up on Wikipedia.
Through all their years together, Pennywise’s onstage energy hasn’t waned a bit. And that’s expected out of a band that has had minimal (yet notable) lineup changes. And to understand those lineup changes is to understand Pennywise’s temperament.
In 1996, Pennywise lost their bassist Jason Thirsk to suicide. Lead singer Jim Lindberg, guitarist Fletcher Dragge, drummer Byron McMackin, and current bassist Randy Bradbury make sure to remind the crowd at every single show of Jason’s memory. Their last song ever since losing Jason has been a tribute song to him, “Bro Hymn.” One pre-chorus lyric reads, “brotherhood’s our rule we cannot bend.” The song is most notable for its passionate chanting chorus that directly mimics the repeating guitar riff. And the fans love to shout along.
It is almost as if every show that they do is dedicated to their dearly departed bandmate.
For a brief time from 2009 through 2012, lead singer Jim Lindberg left the band. Pennywise trucked on without him and released an album with replacement singer Zoli Teglas. And in 2012, when Teglas had an injury, Jim returned.
The gratefulness that these guys have for sticking together showed in every single second of every song at their three-night Palladium residency.
On night two, the crowd was already stuffed to capacity by time opening band H20 hit the stage. Outside the weed-haloed concert hall, a merchandise line easily fifty fans deep stretched down the concessions hallway. The shirts that have sold out the fastest are Pennywise parodies of Los Angeles-area sports logos: a black Kings-Pennywise mashup, a white Lakers-Pennywise girl shirt, and a blue Dodgers-Pennywise baseball tee.
A young fan boasts that his entire family drove up from San Diego just for the show.
By the time the lights dimmed, the nearly 4,000 fans were ready. Over the speakers, a piano riff of “Bro Hymn” built the anticipation. That happens to be just how the album Unknown Road begins. And then six-foot five-inch guitarist Dragge ripped a power chord as the spotlight hit Lindberg.
“Hello we are Pennywise!” Lindberg shouts into the microphone. Shirts and beers are launched into the air by fans ready to mosh. And from there, the energy didn’t stop until the house lights came on.
After moving the crowd for the first two songs, Dragge asked the them, “how many weed smokers are out there?” The crowd roars and flickers of lighters speckle. “How many vape smokers out there?” Dragge asked the crowd again. This time they “boo.” Typical questions coming from a guitarist with a beer-holder on his mic stand.
More items are tossed in the air as the mosh pit keeps spinning ravenously. Twice, Lindberg announces to the crowd that he found a wallet on stage.
And then a few words of homage. Lindberg admits that twenty-five years ago, the first time Pennywise played their hometown’s Palladium was in support of the album Unknown Road. After playing the song “Tester,” he shouts, “we haven’t played that live in 20 years.”
As the first set ends, Lindberg makes a pact with the crowd: “If you keep coming, we’ll keep coming, is that a fucking deal, LA? How about next year, we do the Full Circle album?”
The second set of the night begins immediately following the end of Unknown Road. They are playing the song “Something to Change,” but poor Lindberg minces the lyrics with another song. Not too surprising, as so many of the four-chord punk songs bear a beautiful resemblance to one another. Dragge chastises Lindberg, “we’re not supposed to stop when we fuck up! We broke that rule!”
A few songs later, they begin playing one of their more mainstream hits, “Fuck Authority.” The mosh pit looks more violent than ever. And floating around on top of the pit is a 31-year-old, five-foot three-inch woman from Pasadena named Devin Bell. She is attending all three concerts. She is handling the crowd surfing with a yoga-like cadence. She also got a Pennywise logo tattooed on her torso in December.
“It was so much fun,” Bell explains as she recalls sitting on a guy’s shoulders as he ran around the circle pit. “I want to engage with people, so when I’m singing and sitting on a guy’s shoulders, I want people to feel the energy that I’m feeling. I’m motivated by the music.”
A special guest is then welcomed to the stage: former Bad Religion and Circle Jerks guitarist Greg Hetson. Dragge towers over him as they team up to play a cover of Bad Religion’s “Do What You Want.”
As the energy is reaching an apex, Bradbury starts picking the bass riff to “Bro Hymn.” The crowd knows that this is it. After the first chorus, Pennywise is joined on stage by family and friends. Lindberg gives one of his daughters a high five. He is clearly a family man. And it was even more evident in his 2007 book, Punk Rock Dad.
“Bro Hymn” ends, the lights come up, the energy dissipates, and Pennywise exits.
As most of the crowd dispersed, some sweaty exhausted fans congregated up front to snag the band’s discarded guitar picks, drumsticks, and setlists from the roadie crew. One fan received not a setlist, but a printout of selected lyrics to some lesser-played Unknown Road songs. Maybe Lindberg did seem a little bit in his fifties.
Nobody seemed to notice. The guys of Pennywise seem no older than the twenty-three year-old album they just rocked.
BRIAN FISHBACH is a music journalist based in Los Angeles.
You can find his stories about rockstars at www.BrianFishbach.com