The recordings owed their origin to none of the usual motives- whether they be the desire for fame and fortune, or even women and song. – Raymond Pettibon album cover for “Danger.”
To say that Danger, The Last’s first album in 17 years, wraps up the history of Los Angeles’ South Bay punk scene in a nice little package is an understatement. Formed in 1976 by Hermosa Beach brothers Joe and Mike Nolte, The Last and its 60s garage-inspired music predated the imminent punk movement that would sweep across Southern California. Its 1979 debut album L.A. Explosion! and its iconic lead track She Don’t Know Why I’m Here were hugely inspirational to a new generation of restless musicians. The band’s success among a burgeoning Los Angeles garage/pop scene, including 20/20, the Nerves and, later, the Plimsouls, demonstrated to their Hermosa Beach peers that a new music was possible and embraceable by other restless youth. This inspiration culminated most notably in the rise of Black Flag, the Descendents, the Circle Jerks and Redd Kross. The Last’s sound was eventually overshadowed by the more violent, political expressions of Black Flag and Circle Jerks. The Descendents’ pop/punk sound, which is more aligned with The Last, provided a template for an array of next-generation bands, including Green Day and Blink-182, that realized significant commercial success.
Central to this story was a meeting between The Last and a young band Panic, later christened Black Flag, in a strip mall parking lot on Aviation Blvd. in Hermosa Beach. The bands were fascinated by each other as the only ones of their kind in their sleepy beach community. A 15-year-old with drum sticks wheeled up on a too-small bicycle with fishing rods. The young angler was Bill Stevenson, who later became the creative force of the Descendents and Black Flag’s drummer from 1983-1985. Following this meeting, Stevenson shadowed the Nolte brothers like a remora fish under a shark catching the crumbs of inspiration fallen from his mentors. More than 30 years later, Stevenson and Descendents/All bassist Karl Alvarez join his musical mentors to release Danger, The Last’s first album since 1996. The pupil turned punk rock star/highly-desired-producer turned collaborator is an inspiring story of the shared bond of creating music and adolescent dreams coming true.
With The Last’s return, Danger is, perhaps, the most important release of any Southern California band in 2013. The opening track’s rumbling, distorted bass and machine gun fire drum roll, which evoke Black Flag’s Slip It In, alert the listener to the album’s forthcoming intensity. This melding of punk power with The Last’s 60s garage tendencies gives substance to the former and provides a strong foundation for the Nolte brothers’ to explore interpersonal relationships and loves lost or unrealized. The album’s deeply introspective lyrics, edgy guitar, haunting keyboard, and seamless harmonies are delivered with pressing urgency, suggesting the band’s unfinished business. Danger benefits from Stevenson’s hot and punchy production. The album is wrapped in a provocative Raymond Pettibon original that could reflect Joe Nolte’s lifelong love affair with music.
Danger’s release could not have been come at a better time with founding and succeeding Black Flag members, including Stevenson, embroiled in litigation and fronting two different versions of the venerable band playing music 30 years old. Acknowledging The Last’s long history, Danger is utterly contemporary and captures the anxiety of modern life with a sophistication and musicality that its peers never realized. With Danger, fans and critics can legitimately include The Last in late night conversations about Southern California’s most significant bands.
Danger is scheduled for release on November 5 and will be available on CD, vinyl and digital via End Sounds (www.endsounds.com). The Last’s website (www.laexplosion.com) is a vast resource, including streaming music, videos, the band’s many reviews and a listing of every gig ever played.
(left to right) Karl Alvarez, Mike Nolte, Joe Nolte, and Bill Stevenson