I'm here to tell you something. All you naysayers out there with your nostrils to the sun and giant signs spouting all of your punk-rock morals to the rest of the world, listen up. Unwritten Law still rocks, so go out in your backyard, dig a giant goddamn hole and have somebody hit you over the head with a shovel and bury you in it.
Feb. 1 was Unwritten Law's sold-out CD-release concert at Soma. Beforehand, the bar in the nearby Black Angus looked like a 15-year reunion for graduates of Poway High-the ultra-white suburban school that managed to graduate guitarist Rob Brewer and bassist Pat Kim. There were also a few 30-something grads from Mt. Carmel in Peñasquitos, the poorer-and-less-white nook of suburbia where Scott Russo grew up and still lives.
Like them, I've been a fan of U.L. for a long time. Every time they put out a new album, I have to hear all you ass clowns talk about how they've sold out and they aren't as good as they used to be and blah blah blah.
It's one thing when the 30-something pals of the band began to chant "C.P.K.! C.P.K.!" forcing Rob Brewer, with a sarcastic grin, to say, "Well, OK, if you put it that way" and dive fret-first into the fan-favorite anthem from their first album, Blue Room. It's another thing to say Unwritten Law is boring and washed up because Russo has learned how to write a song and appreciates the soft 'n' tender feel of tunes like "Seein' Red" and "Cailin." The 32-year-old is a papa of three, after all-the sort who eagerly opens his cell phone to proudly show strangers pictures of his kids.
Even softened, however, Unwritten Law brought the house down on Tuesday, scraped together some more concrete and rebar, built another building and totally destroyed it again.
And they needed to. It's been a tough ride for the band since they released Elva in 2002. Since then, they fired founding drummer Wade Youman (it's saying something when a notoriously unstable band kicks you out for being too unstable). They parted ways with manager Bill Silva, who is busy with the hectic career of Jason Mraz. Guitarist Steve Morris got hitched, and Russo parted with his wife. And toughest of all, especially at the time of this release show, Kim's father is terminally ill and in the hospital.
If every aging band needs to be reminded of their original hunger, U.L. had plenty of inspiration going into the night. And they delivered.
They started their set with "Get Up" and "Celebration Song" from their new album, Here's to the Mourning, and didn't let up until the lights came on and the crowd surfers started looking for their shoes. Russo's voice has seldom sounded better, particularly on "C.P.K." and "Harmonic," and supporting players Brewer, Morris, Kim and new drummer Tony Palermo kicked out the jams like their heads would explode if they stopped.
Yes, we know Youman is a great drummer, but unless somebody invents a time machine and convinces God to make him not crazy, you're gonna have to deal.
Russo pumped his fists, shook outstretched arms to the beat like a hip-hop MC and worked the mic like a frenzied Frank Sinatra with a coat rack. In terms of rock choreography, Russo rivals the sublimely active Scott Weiland for top nod. After the crowd sung along impressively on "Seein' Red," Russo spurted "We love every fucking one of you" so intensely it was almost anger, like the real sort of love once the honeymoon's over.
It could've been a cliché from the singer's playbook. Difference is, Russo has learned how to sell it.
At the end of the day, it's like this: Sometimes you want a band to kick your ass with solid rock tune after solid rock tune, and sometimes you want to listen to Conor Oberst. But it's like Soma owner Len Paul said after the show: Unwritten Law is one of the best rock bands in the United States.
Especially in person.
(Additional reporting by Troy Johnson.)