By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Anchored by the McDonald brothers Steven and Jeff for the better part of four decades, Redd Kross brings its mix of punk energy and pop hooks to Slim’s Wednesday night with support from legendary Melvins drummer Dale Crover fronting his own band.
Inspired by the Beatles, bubblegum pop and glam rock at a young age, the McDonald brothers dove into the Los Angeles punk scene with their first band, the Tourists. The group played its first show opening for Black Flag in 1978 when Jeff (guitar/vocals) was 15 and Steven (bass) was only 11. Along with second guitarist Greg Hetson — who would later play with the Circle Jerks and Bad Religion — and future Black Flag drummer Ron Reyes, the crew would change its name to Red Cross right before recording it’s debut self-titled EP in 1979.
The six-song effort clocked in at just under six and a half minutes and showcased the brothers’ knack for catchy, trashy punk tunes. While Hetson and Reyes would move on, the brothers enlisted several collaborators for their first proper full-length album in 1982, Born Innocent. With its brief, buzzsaw songs focusing on subject matter like young actresses Linda Blair (star of The Exorcist) and Tatum O’Neal, cult leader Charles Manson and Runaways guitarist Lita Ford, the recording placed the band firmly in the more pop-minded end of the punk rock spectrum, following in the footsteps of the Ramones and the Buzzcocks.
The band’s next effort, the 1984 covers EP Teen Babes from Monsanto, paid tribute to some of their cornerstone influences with versions of songs by Kiss, David Bowie, the Stooges and the Shangri-Las. The band would take a detour into filmmaking, appearing in and even contributing to the screenplays of Desperate Teenage Lovedolls and Lovedolls Superstar, a pair of low-budget underground films shot in Super 8 that would develop a cult audience that still celebrates the two punk movies.
In the meantime, a new line-up of the band had solidified with guitarist Robert Hecker and drummer Roy McDonald (formerly of the Things and later a member of The Muffs). The group would return to the studio and record their landmark Neurotica album that came out in 1987 on Big Time Records. Expanding their sound to embrace psychedelia and ’60s garage rock, the album would prove to be influential not only on the SoCal rock scene but on the fledgling alternative-rock movement.
Through a steady rotation of players, the McDonald brothers would persevere, recovering from Big Tim folding to sign a deal with Atlantic Records to release the power-pop gem Third Eye in 1990, the first of three records for the label during the decade. But despite solid reviews, an appearance in the time-travel farce Spirit of ’76, some MTV airplay and numerous tours with less accomplished bands (Redd Kross at various points supported the Lemonheads, the Spin Doctors and Stone Temple Pilots during the early ’90s), the band never quite broke through. They eventually went on an extended hiatus in 1997.
The Neurotica line-up of the band would reunite to play a career-spanning set of songs in Los Angeles nearly a decade later, reviving interest in the group, leading to some limited touring and invitations to play at a variety of festivals including Coachella, the ATP vs Pitchfork Festival in England, NXNE in Toronto and the Turbo Rock Festival in Spain. In 2012, Redd Kross released its first album in 15 years with Researching the Blues on Merge Records, an effort that many hailed as one of the McDonald brothers’ best yet.
While Steven McDonald has busied himself with other projects, playing bass in both the punk supergroup OFF! and more recently with heavy rock iconoclasts the Melvins, Redd Kross has still hit the road on occasion, touring extensively on their own and with the Melvins last year to promote the limited vinyl reissues of Teen Babes from Monsanto and the rarities collection Hot Issue on the band’s own Redd Kross Fashion imprint.
With major plans looming for 2019 including the reissue of the band’s long out-of-print ’90s albums Phaseshifter and Show World on Jack White’s Third Man Records and a new album for Merge, Redd Kross is currently touring the West Coast with support from Melvins drummer Dale Crover (who — like bassist McDonald — plays in both bands) and his own group. A powerhouse musician who has occupied the drum stool for bands including Nirvana and Acid King as well as such supergroups as Fantomas, Shrinebuilder and the aforementioned OFF!, Crover also recorded and toured for years with his own outfit, Altamont.
Last year, Crover released The Fickle Finger of Fate on Joyful Noise Recordings. His first proper solo album since the Melvins issued their individual efforts styled after the solo recordings of Kiss in 1992, the new songs range from brief drum experiments to angular yet melodic heavy rock athems. The drummer steps out in front with a guitar strapped on when the Dale Crover Band (which also features McDonald on bass) plays its first San Francisco show at Slim’s Wednesday night before Redd Kross performs its headlining set.
Redd Kross and the Dale Crover Band
Wednesday, Dec. 19, 7:30 p.m. $16-$18