Burn and Pillage: The Vandals take a bite out of an “Anarchy Burger”

Coming from a movement dominated by kids who are all attitude and no talent, The Vandals approach punk rock with a unique professionalism. The group, who will be playing at Reggies Rock Club this Friday, eschew the radical politics and scenester posturing of some of its contemporaries to focus instead on actually making music. “At the end of the day it’s music, not just punk rock,” says bassist Joe Escalante in an interview with Skratch Magazine. Lyrically, they’re more concerned with humor than revolution. Fan favorite “Anarchy Burger” mocks the seriousness of other punk bands with its tongue-in-cheek chorus: “Anarchy burger, hold the government.” Other songs find humor in the mundane like “How They Getcha,” a song about a fortuneteller. In an interview with Citizine, guitarist Warren Fitzgerald says that writing punk songs about ridiculous topics is one of his favorite tricks. A fan hears the screaming and the fury and thinks that The System is finally crumbling, but “then you read the lyrics and it’s like, ‘Oh shit, it’s about fuckin’ Miss Cleo,’” says Escalante.

The Vandals have many such iconoclastic tendencies. At times, they do things that are simply not punk. In 2004, the band traveled to Iraq to play for the American soldiers. This performance drew criticism from some fans, who thought that the performance showed the band’s support for the US-led invasion. This move caused protests during the subsequent European tour and led one Austrian promoter to cancel a show, claiming that the band had performed for “murderers and idiots.” An Austrian website protesting the tour read “Hitler bad–Vandals too.” Undaunted, the band traveled to Afghanistan in 2006 to perform for the troops stationed there.

Escalante and Fitzgerald are joined by singer Dave Quackenbush and drummer Josh Freese in the Vandals’ current lineup. The band has been playing in one form or another since 1980, but Escalante is the lone founding member left in the band. Throughout his decades with the Vandals, Escalante has observed changes in the punk scene. In the early days of the band, the crowd was often rough, full of scrounges, Nazis, and thugs. When Escalante graduated from law school in the early ‘90s and the Vandals began touring extensively again, these elements were gone. At this time, punk was attracting more mainstream attention. “In 1994, punk became more of a business,” Escalante says. In the mid ‘90s, Escalante and Fitzgerald founded Kung Fu Records to develop artists in the fertile scene.

Today, everyone in the band has a day job and plenty of other commitments. Escalante now works full-time as a morning DJ on Indie 103.1, which is broadcast in Orange County and Santa Monica. Fitzgerald spent the last year touring with Gwen Stefani and has performed with Oingo Boingo and Tenacious D. He also paints as a hobby. Many of his works contain disturbing imagery, such as one that depicts a nude Satan catching a tiny crucified Jesus in a butterfly net, or another portraying a giant anthropomorphic mound of feces grinning manically and torturing a half-naked man with a toilet plunger. Freese is a professional studio drummer who has played in A Perfect Circle, Guns ‘N’ Roses, and DEVO. Quackenbush owns an alcohol distribution company. On the weekends, they hop into a car or a plane and tour for a couple of days then go back home. Escalante describes the Vandals today as more like a men’s club than anything else.

The Vandals, Reggies Rock Club, 2105 S. State St. March 14. Friday, 7pm. $13