By Will Morrison
The Conditionz are an anomaly in the world of punk rock. Bands form and fall apart, merge and splinter and sell out quite frequently. Throughout the shifting landscape of American music, The Conditionz stands tall, thirty years later.
Since its inception at the hands of outcast anarchists in England and America, punk has diversified. New wave and 90s pop-punk revival injected new sounds, motives and ideals in to what was once a subculture determined to lay low. The distain for higher culture and normality was set aside, andpunk has since spread across the world. Despite the constant fluctuations in styles and sounds, however, one idea has threaded its way through the history of the genre: punk is for the young rebels of our world. But The Conditionz remind us just how wrong that sentiment is.
As a Punk outfit, The Conditionz is pretty standard issue. Aside from its ’50s inspired Chuck Berry-esque riffs, the band doesn’t break any new ground in the genre except for one rather unusual characteristic—its age. The Conditionz was founded in 1982. A 30-year-old band is not unheard of, but in a realm of fast living, anarchy and subculture, four fifty-somethings playing this kind of explosive music is a unique setup. And the music doesn’t suffer for it. Too often punk is forced full-bore from a group, and the resulting wall of sound becomes a muddy mess. The members of The Conditionz come across more like grizzled veterans. They’ve spent their time on the front lines, and it shows. They know when to hold back, and when to unleash. Their experience and pragmatism, combined with the inherent emotion, is a powerful concoction.
Their music, too, has benefitted from their collective years of experience. Always energetic, it runs the gamut from the simple and poppy “She’s So Suburban” to the more complex and driven “Pills.” Through it all, the back-and-forth intense energy between singer Bob Nye and lead guitarist Aaron Nielson builds to explosive peaks while drummer Steve Arti fires volleys of percussion and bassist Bob Vennum effortlessly drives the lower end. There is no lack of sheer volume, but it’s well presented. Each verse and solo is crafted, rather than blasted at the audience.
The group began as did most bands of the genre. In the dingiest section of a dingy record shop, Nye found an album by a relatively unknown British band who called themselves the Sex Pistols. He was hooked. So in 1982 he and Jon Jacobs, a friend from high school, came together to start The Conditionz. Rounding out the band were Aaron Nielson on lead guitar and Steve Arti on drums. They played locally for a year, and in 1983 recorded their first single, “She’s So Suburban/House Divided.” Jacobs and Arti left the band in 1987. But following national tours and the release of four independently produced albums Geffen Records took an interest in the band. The deal fell through, prompting Neilson to leave as well. Nye soldiered on through the 90s, joined intermittently by various members of the original line up.
Last year, The Conditionz regrouped and began to prepare for an imminent return. Sadly, it was their last time playing together. Shortly after rehearsals began, Jacobs was diagnosed with cancer, and soon died. Though a sudden death can spell the end for many groups, they decided to continue. What was once a reunion tour became something of a memorial to one of their founding members.
As they stand at the starting line of their first tour together in twenty six years, the excitement they felt in the early days of dive bars and Sex Pistols LPs has returned. “It feels like we were just playing together last week,” says Nye. “Like we never broke up.” Nye, Neilson, and Arti, joined by bassist Bob Vennum of the Belrays share the stage effortlessly. They crack jokes about worn-out knees now, but when the count off comes they fall into a zone of restless energy and sheer volume many younger bands of the day would struggle to match. In a world drowning in the worship of youth not only do they hold their own, they excel.
The Conditionz at Pixels, 3535 University Ave. Riverside, (951) 683-7957; www.facebook.com/pages/Pixels/221906047936584. May 4, 9PM. Free. 21 and over.