After nine years away, Unwritten Law returned to rock the Roxy last Thursday night, playing a great mix of songs from their excellent catalogue and new tracks from their recent album The Hum. The night definitely held some personal airs of nostalgia for me, as I was with friends who I last saw Unwritten Law with twenty years prior. And while the band certainly were a bit older, the hits hadn’t aged a day.
The night began with another dose of welcome nostalgia; Mest. Originally planned as a solo acoustic performance by frontman Tony Lovato, who was still recovering from a recent car accident, Lovato decided the event would be more fun with a full band. It certainly was. The band were jumping around and showing off the enthusiasm and charm that helped them stand out in the crowded field of bands when they first came up. Their material is the pure pop punk sound of the early oughts, and they had no problem joking at the age of themselves or the crowd in their banter. During “Fuct Up Kid”, they asked the audience to simply spin in individual circles, since they probably couldn’t handle a circle pit. He wasn’t wrong. The group dug out their cover of Modern English‘s “I Melt With You” from the Not Another Teen Movie soundtrack (while joking that they totally wrote it and got all the publishing from it). Mest definitely do wistful nostalgia well, as could be heard from the one-two heart punch of “Jaded (These Years)” and “Rooftops”, both of which brought me back to my college days. They then closed out the set with their hip-hop influenced party jam “Cadillac”. The only thing missing was “What’s the Dillio”, which I remember playing on KROQ’s Furious Five at 9 back in the day. The band has a new album coming this Spring, so be sure we’ll share it once it comes.
Authority Zero feel like a newer band to me still, even though they’ve been rocking stages since the early 2000’s as well (their first album came out in 2002). While I’ve been listening to them for years, this was my first time seeing them live. The first thing I noticed is the band tackles their material like a hardcore punk group, even the more melodic material. Frontman Jason DeVore spits lines fast and furious, creating an instant circle pit with “A Passage in Time” and “Lying Awake” (I guess Mest was wrong about the audience being too old). Tracks like the anthemic “Get it Right” (my personal favorite) came in at double-speed, making it feel like it almost ended too quickly (ie: they left me wanting more). The catchy pop-leaning “Ollie Ollie Oxen Free” and “Find Your Way” were a hands-in-the-air sing-alongs, and even their ska-influenced material (“One More Minute”) carried a bit more bite in the live setting. The group had an intense energy which would also make you question how old the band was, since there are younger groups who can’t go as hard.
As I mentioned above, the one time I saw Unwritten Law before was over twenty years ago when they opened for Sum 41 in San Diego. Elva was a huge album for me in college, and the moment I heard they were performing (just 4 days before my 40th birthday), I knew this would be the perfect birthday show. Thankfully I was also very familiar with their new material, as the album was one of my favorites of 2022, so I was excited when early in the set they broke out “Beggars”. Then I was more excited to hear the classic “Teenage Suicide”.
The group mixed in songs from their entire catalogue, dropping in the great cut “Rescue Me” from Elva, “Celebration Song” from Here’s to the Mourning, and bringing out Mickey Avalon for “Shoulda Known Better”. I was surprised that their biggest radio hit, “Seeing Red”, came somewhat early in the set, but that also made the rest of the evening less predictable. They also put the song that got them their first radio play, the lovely “Cailin”, in the middle of the list. Damn those songs still sound great though.
Frontman Scott Russo may not be as lean and mean as he was twenty years ago, but he’s still the consummate performer, bringing panache, humor and energy to every song. The camaraderie he showed with his current bandmates (UL has had a number of line-up changes over the years) was endearing; one moment that stood out was when he touched heads with his drummer during the acoustic part of the set.
The section was a nice touch, giving Russo a chance to play material like “Geronimo” and the beautiful “Rest of My Life”, before bringing back out the band. “Save Me” and “Up All Night”, two more of the group’s excellent singles, created some epic crowd singing. While I would have been happy if the band ended their set there, they teased more music to come. I crossed my fingers for “California Sky” or “Shallow”, though sadly the band went with some of their earlier material that I didn’t recognize as well. I must admit though it became hard to pay attention as a clearly drunken member of the crowd who was still circle pitting despite no one joining him rubbed a couple audience members the wrong way and created a scuffle on the floor that led to the intoxicated guy being thrown out. That’s punk rock for ya.
I left the show feeling a sense of pure happiness, having fully enjoyed being reunited with Unwritten Law‘s music after so many years away. I’ll have to make sure the next break isn’t as long. If you’re not familiar with the group, you can start with this.