Redd Kross is to punk rock what Cheap Trick is to ’70s arena rock. This is not as much because of a sonic resemblance, though both bands made some of the best crunchy power-pop this side of Big Star, but the perpetual underdog status they have endured. Both bands have never been as popular as perhaps they should be, while watching peers they resected surpass them.
For Redd Kross, those peers range from everyone from the Circle Jerks and Black Flag to The Go-Go’s and The Bangles, friends who they’ve good-naturedly cheered on as they went on to great acclaim. Even now band leader Steve McDonald reaches more people in punk supergroup OFF! than he does with the band he started with his brother Jeff when they were middle schoolers.
Nevertheless, there’s a discerning minority who will tell you that “Surrender” is the best song ever, and that Redd Kross is certainly one of America’s greatest rock bands. After seeing the band in the midst of its longest tour in two decades, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
After kicking things off with “Lady in the Front Row” from the underrated (even among aficionados) Phaseshifter album, the McDonald brothers took this rare opportunity to touch on all eras of the band’s three-decade career, including several cuts from their 2012 comeback album, Researching the Blues. Helping them in this task is Melvins drummer Dale Crower, whose been recruited for more than just this month of dates; he’s a full-time Redd Kross volunteer now. Despite Steve playing with him in the Melvins for the last several years, this still initially seemed like an odd pairing. However, any question about how his powerful pounding would fit in was quickly answered when the drums kicked in during “Jimmy’s Fantasy.” No ill-fitting replacement, he was made for this.
The bulk of the set was spent performing the band’s entire 1984 cover album Teen Babes from Monsanto. It was a surprise that an entire half of the set would involve cover songs from a 33-year old album, even accounting for the release of a new version two years ago. That must be what happens when you tour sporadically—it takes years to catch up on things you might want to do. Such gaps also allow for increased tolerance from fans who might have preferred to hear Neurotica played in its entirety instead. But who would want to deprive Redd Kross of the obvious enjoyment they have dragging Bowie, Stooges and Shangri-Las nuggets out of the mothballs after all these years?
The songs don’t remain the same either, as they made the Stones’ “Citadel” sound like Nirvana. As if to atone for this self-indulgence, Redd Kross encored with a handful of its self-penned repertoire including the grinding “Crazy World,” “Annette’s Got the Hits” (from the band’s 1980 debut EP), and a spirited version of “Mess Around.”
Cheap Trick recently was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, so don’t be surprised if Redd Kross experiences a renaissance in the next few years that surpasses the attention the band received during its heyday. Based on this show alone, it won’t be undeserved.