A Discussion About Discharge’s Los Angeles Shows in the 1980s

[The following interview was originally featured in a recent episode of 185 Miles Podcast by host Zack Nelson]

I’ve always been fascinated by how big the Los Angeles punk shows in the 1980s were whenever the big English punk bands came over. Over 1,000 people could pack into Fender’s Ballroom, Florentine Gardens, or Perkins Palace. The Santa Monic Civic held 3,000 people, and the Olympic Auditorium held over 1,000 more than that.

Big Frank Harrison worked for Goldenvoice before they were the corporate phenomenon we know them as today. It wasn’t Paul McCartney and hologram-Tupac at Coachella or Garth Brooks and the Eagles at Stagecoach. It was FEAR and the Circle Jerks at The Olympic Auditorium or Agnostic Front and Uniform Choice at Fender’s Ballroom.

Hardcore was young, and things were changing rapidly. If you weren’t in the room, or able to track down a 5th-generation grainy VHS cassette, you relied on word-of-mouth. How was that show? Who was there? How wild was it? Did anyone get stabbed?

Discharge played the LA area five times in the '80s. In the span of those years, they went from possibly the greatest hardcore band on the planet to a band that sounded like if Mercyful Fate was trying to make it big on the Sunset Strip. Big Frank was at every show and I asked him what he remembered about them on Episode 227 of 185 Miles South.

*All flyers from Metallipromo

10/2/1982 Florentine Gardens w/ Misfits, Crucifix, 45 Grave, The Lewd

Big Frank: That was a great show. I used to have a really good photo that Al Flipside took of me singing with Cal, but it's just been lost in the wind.

It was pretty crazy. The peace punk scene and the-anti war thing was really popular and there were quite a few of us that were quite excited to see Discharge. If we're saying wild by pit standards, it was more of a sing along kind of thing. There probably was circle pit, but I was more into singing with the singer than I was into circle pitting.

Misfits were so noisy. I was a huge Misfits fan and I couldn’t tell what song they were playing half the time because it was just a wall of noise; it was really hard to decipher.

10/8/1982 Santa Monica Civic w/ Circle Jerks, Bad Brains, Bad Religion

Big Frank: There was a magazine that came out called Punk Lives. It was all basically English bands and there was a picture of the bass player of Discharge in the magazine and he had a Battalion of Saints sticker under the strings on his bass. I immediately called the band I go, “Have you seen this? The bass player from Discharge has got a Battalion of Saints sticker,” and everyone went nuts.

We met up at the show, and I ran into some kid that thought he was a Suicidal tough guy and he starts talking smack to me. I just ignored him, but the bass player from Battalion of Saints goes, “Why don’t you shut the fuck up?” and just dropped him. So then this kid runs off with his tail between his legs.

Fast forward to we’re backstage hanging out with Discharge. The kid comes up to me with Mike Muir and goes “That’s the guy! That’s the guy!” and Mike just goes, “Yea, we’re going to let this one go,” and turned and took the guy away.

12/17/1983 Perkins Palace w/ Suicidal Tendencies, Battalion of Saints

Big Frank: This show was kind of a fork in the road for me because I was doing security for Goldenvoice but that was about it, and at this show I didn’t have anyone to help me. The Perkins Palace stage would go up to about six-foot person’s chin so it took some effort to climb and get on stage.

During this Discharge set, I worked the front of the stage by myself and not one person got on the stage during Discharge’s whole set. It became a game after a while just to keep everybody off and I did. And after the show I got promoted to stage manager.

12/19/1983 Olympic Auditorium w/ Social Distortion, MDC

Big Frank: [The Olympic Auditorium] was like if you took the Roman Colosseum and put a roof on it. Very circular and just huge. You can imagine a boxing ring being in the middle and the place being full up to the rafters.

I remember the Olympic show being another great show. I mean, all those songs were untouchable.

9/6/1986 Fender's Ballroom w/ Cryptic Slaughter, Dr. Know, Final Conflict

Big Frank: No Rainy. No Bones. No Tezz. [Discharge was] basically Cal and a bunch of guys with long hair. I had heard the records. I don’t know if Grave New World had come out yet but I had heard the direction he was trying to go and I tried to talk to one of the guys in the band.

I go, “If he starts doing the heavy metal stuff, man, this crowd is not going to have it. I’m telling you right now that you guys should talk to Cal and say you can do some of that but you better mix in the punk stuff or you’re going to have a rough night.” So I warned them.

They looked more like an '80s hair metal band then they did a punk band at this point. I think a lot of people were confused but trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, but as soon as he starts singing…oh my god. You know, he starts singing in falsetto. I could swear he sang one of the old songs but in his new style and things start flying at the stage. I don’t remember what song they were playing. I just remember shit started flying and I was like here we go.

I don’t think they lasted another song and they came off stage and didn’t go back. It was really quick. I didn’t see it, because I wasn’t back there, but I heard Cal was in the back just sobbing like a baby. He didn’t understand what happened.


Tagged: discharge