Read "PENNWYISE: Punk That Packs A Punch" by the L.A. Times

Punk fans can be fervent, but few bands provoke the level of aggressive enthusiasm that veteran hard-core group Pennywise does, and in a scene that's all about letting loose, that's saying something.

The Hermosa Beach quartet celebrated the release of it's latest album "From The Ashes," on Monday at the House Of Blues in West Hollywood (the first of two sold-out gigs there, followed by two starting tonight at the chain's venue in Anaheim). It may very well have been one of the most interactive, not to mention boisterously outrageous, shows the club has ever seen.

From vigilant chants of the band's name that drowned out the room's sound system before the group played, to the procession of excited fans pulled on stage to sing with vocalist Jim Lindberg, Pennywise showed it knows how to throw a rowdy punk party in which the audience plays a pivotal role.

Indeed, the group takes crowd participation to a whole new level, often asking what to play throughout the night to create its set, which on Monday ended up being a mix of old (the single bearing the band's name from its '91 debut), more recent (1999's "Alien," the band's biggest hit to date), covers (Black Flag's "Nervous Breakdown," Ben E. King's "Stand By Me") and new songs.

The thunderous beats of drummer Byron McMackin and almost metallic-heavy riffs of guitarist Fletcher Dragge probably would drown out a lesser singer, but Lindberg rises to the challenge with a melodic yet gritty style that's strengthened by the backup harmony help of bassist Randy Bradbury. Collectively, the group's members deliver a pulverizing, perfectly balanced sonic force.

Though its furious stomps make for a free-for-all atmosphere, Pennywise's musical mania has never been mindless. Political hypocrisy and skepticism toward authority still inspire its anthems, and Monday's performance proved the band hasn't lost its ability to address both with power and passion.

By Lina Lecaro
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