On Wednesday night, a tsunami will engulf Jacksonville Beach. The screaming guitars of legendary punk band T.S.O.L. will clash with local hellraisers Concrete Criminals and Palatka adrenaline junkies FFN. at Surfer the Bar. Slap on your best pair of shredded jeans and put Homeland Security on full alert, because the beaches are going to set it off.
T.S.O.L. (True Sounds of Liberty) has been through more changes than Charlie Sheen has been through hookers. The band was founded in Southern California in the late 1970s, like fellow standard-bearers Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. T.S.O.L.’s debut EP, released in 1981, shared the aggressive rhythms, distorted guitars and political themes that distinguished many SoCal punk records. The band was against private property, the military, the government and, of course, Ronald Reagan.
Their 1983 full-length Beneath the Shadows, found the erstwhile punks embracing a new-wave sound and goth-rock aesthetic. The move from loud guitars to pianos and keyboards didn’t sit well with paint-by-numbers punks, though. Founding vocalist Jack Grisham didn’t care. He believed playing punk music meant you didn’t have to follow any script, so he didn’t.
Grisham left T.S.O.L. shortly thereafter. His next act: dressing in drag and performing what he termed “lounge music” in a new band, Cathedral of Tears. He was rebelling against everything he had become. The effort was as admirable as the music was lame, with cheesy keyboards and blowing whistles that sounded more like the Village People than the Ramones.
Without Grisham, T.S.O.L. went in a totally different direction. They ingratiated themselves with the L.A. hair-metal scene and toured with Guns N’ Roses.
By 1990, there were no remaining original members. Legal struggles ensued, and in 1999, Grisham reunited the one and true T.S.O.L. They’ve been writing, recording and touring ever since.
The band’s latest recording, The Trigger Complex, was released in 2017. It’s a decent rock record with one exceptional song, “Give Me More.” The rest are standard rock tunes that have nothing to do with punk or goth. It takes a turn for the landfill with “Going Steady.” The chorus is literally, “It’s so fun, going steady.” Is this “Beach Blanket Bingo?” Am I listening to Frankie Avalon?
Closer to home, Jacksonville Beach’s Concrete Criminals rose from the ashes of Poor Richards in 2015. Bass player Sean Pee and lead singer Cousin Matt were looking to graduate from misdemeanors to felonies and needed co-conspirators. They struck the mother lode with the lighting-fast reflexes of drummer Lang Sheppard and power chord master David Larson.
The resulting sound is combustible, dynamic and fun. Concrete Criminals might remind you of California skate-punk bands like JFA, Lagwagon or Guttermouth, but their sound is pure Florida. What’s the difference? They’re faster, harder and a whole lot angrier. Why?
Southern California: police officers that say “please” and perfect weather year-round. Florida: cops that beat citizens for sport and weather that goes from good to cataclysmic in the blink of an eye.
This reality is lyrically reflected in a song like “Slappy Seconds”: “Gonna ride my skate thru city hall / Let the politicians know they can lick balls / Skate skate skate anywhere you can / Ride your skate, f*ck the Man.”
It’s musically demonstrated in “Divided We Fall,” a track initiated by a single, sustained power chord. After a few measures, Pee’s heavy bass strumming provides a driving floor. A couple of light drum fills and Sheppard breaks into a galloping, double-timed, two-four beat. The boys still let you wait for a couple of beats before Larson comes crashing back in on guitar and Cousin Matt growls out the lyrics: “In a free society we reside / stuck in our homes forced to hide / the government’s taking us for a ride / fueled by hate and national pride!”
While the boys get pissed, they still like to have a good time—their way. Their tracks include “Growing Up Is for Poseurs” and lyrics like “I wanna surf all day, skate all night, shred the Kona bowl without the fright.”
If the Criminals sing the blues about beach life, FFN’s rage emerged from the rural swamps of Palatka. The band calls their music “trap punk 'n’ roll” and have been blowing amplifiers in the hood since 2004.
Lead singer J.R. Nowhere yawps like he’s gargled with more chainsaws than former AC/DC lead singer Bon Scott. His lyrics are powerful and piercing while the music includes elements of rockabilly and garage rock. The addition of drummer Eddie Dyall brings a precision and intensity to FFN’s already incendiary sound.
Come to hear the best punk music from Northeast Florida, stay to catch Pinata Protest and the legendary T.S.O.L.