Pennywise Goes Full Circle: The fact that Hermosa Beach punks Pennywise formed in 1988 often gets forgotten. Because of their association with Epitaph Records, and the fact that their self-titled debut album didn’t emerge until ‘91, people generally associate them with the mid-’90s skate-punk/pop-punk explosion. Their finest album, Full Circle, dropped in ‘97. But this band put out two EPs in the ‘80s and they earned their stripes. Pennywise was no overnight sensation, riding the coattails of Green Day and the Offspring.
Starting March 4, Pennywise will play five nights at the wonderful Garden Amp in Garden Grove, performing each of their first five full-length albums in their entirety. One album a night, plus encores. Each one promises to be a special event; Pennywise doesn’t do bad albums and those first five in particular are superb.
“We’ve been talking about it for a few years,” says guitarist Fletcher Dragge. “I think it was my idea, not to take credit. We had done three album shows at the Palladium with the first three records, then we had done a tour of Australia with About Time and we had done a tour of Australia with Straight Ahead. We had done all the albums at different times, and only Australia got full tours. We were like, wait a second, we can actually play five albums at this point. Put ‘em back-to-back in Orange County, in our home. See what happens.”
The Garden Amp, as we’ve been saying for a number of months now, is emerging as one of the best midsize venues in SoCal, particularly to see a punk rock show. Dragge agrees.
“We were talking about doing it at bigger venues, and we have a bunch of friends that are running the Garden Amp,” he says. “A lot of people don’t know about it, but it’s an awesome venue. It’s a miniature version of Irvine Meadows. When people get in there, they’re like ‘Oh shit, this is awesome. They want to put it on the radar a little bit, so doing something like a big splash with five Pennywise shows seemed like a good idea. They’re super cool dudes, all punk rockers. It’s got an old school punk club feel. It’s like playing Irvine Meadows to 800 people instead of 18,000. It’s outdoors, and run by good people with the right intentions. We would love to help them put their name on the map, and at the same time it’s gonna be a great show for us.”
Re-learning every song on all five albums has been challenging for men that aren’t in their early twenties anymore. It might not be prog rock, but Dragge maintains that some of the tunes are difficult to play, when their bones don’t work the way that they used to. Still, he has his favorites.
“I think my favorite album is Unknown Road in a way, because it’s different,” Dragge says. “It’s got some quirky parks that aren’t typical of Pennywise or punk rock in general. I really like a lot of the melodies Jim [Lindberg, vocals] has on that record. But Full Circle is just a banger. It’s so aggressive and so full to play. A lot of these songs are so typical, you can’t go out and play them on a three-week tour because you’re going to blow Byron [McMackin]’s drums out, you’ll blow Jim’s voice out, or whatever, if you do it night after night. So we throw them in here and there, but for the most part, a lot of these songs don’t get played hardly ever. Being able to rip through Full Circle and hear all these songs that are just so good, to me at least, it’s super exciting and a breath of fresh air. It’s cool being in the rehearsal room going through those right now.”
On top of all that, Pennywise has assembled a different lineup of opening bands for each of the five nights, every one solid. Depending on the night that you attend, you might see TSOL or the Adolescents or H2O or Good Riddance or the Voodoo Glow Skulls.
“It’s always difficult to get opening bands because somebody’s always got something going on,” says Dragge. “There’s politics involved, or they don’t want to play at a certain time. But they all know it’s a big deal. We’re all friends. Over 30 years, we’ve developed really good relationships with TSOL, Strung Out, H2O, Voodoo Glow Skulls and everybody that’s on that lineup. In general, we’re super psyched about the lineup. If you took all those bands, and put them on one day with Pennywise as the headliner, you’d have a pretty fucking good festival.”
The biggest challenge for fans will be deciding which of the five shows to attend, if you can’t make them all. Meanwhile, Pennywise’s most recent album, Never Gonna Die, came out in 2018. Dragge isn’t sure when the next one will emerge.
“I’ve probably written about 20 songs over COVID times,” he says. “So I know everyone is always writing, just as a habit, but no talk of actually getting in the studio and doing something. I’m assuming after we get some shows under our belts, and after we get back on the road and start to feel a little bit more normal, then we’ll be bored with touring and we’ll be like, ‘let’s do another album.’ As you know, in this day and age, people don’t really care about new music that much. They just want to hear the old stuff. Hence, a five-album show.”
That’ll do for now. Looking deeper into the year, Pennywise is going out on the road with old friends NOFX, among others.
“We’re just putting the pieces back together and trying to get back to normal,” Dragge says. “Hopefully, we’ll have a good summer and we’ll see what it brings. Then hopefully we’ll get back in the studio and put out a new record that hopefully people listen to, in this day and age.”
Pennywise Goes Full Circle: The events take place at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 4, Saturday, March 5, Friday, March 11, Saturday, March 12 and Sunday, March 13 at the Garden Amp.
Pennywise Goes Full Circle