The rise of The Offspring, as told through their most important gigs

These days, The Offspring headline arenas and festivals all over the place. But they started out with a debut show in a hallway. Dexter Holland tracks their entire live journey…

The rise of The Offspring, as told through their most important gigs
Ian Winwood
Federica Burelli

From punk dives to headlining the world’s biggest festivals, The Offspring have pretty much done it all. And very soon they can add Slam Dunk to that list. So, to get us in the mood, Dexter Holland: uno, dos, tres, tell us about the shows you’ve played…

1985The Offspring’s first show, in the hallway at the University of Southern California

“I think our first actual show was in our dorm in college. We set up all our gear in the hall, which was only about four­­­­ feet wide, and I think there was three of us [in the band] at the time. We played the show at the back of the hallway to absolutely no acclaim whatsoever. This was at the University of Southern California and we were all about 18. It’s also before Noodles joined the band [on guitar]. I think we played about six songs, and to this day I don’t know how we got permission to set up a band in the hallway of a university dorm. But we did. It was on a Friday night, so half of the kids had gone home for the weekend and the other half of the kids probably walked by with robes and toothbrushes on their way to the community bathroom. We probably had about 15 people watching us, which to us was pretty exciting.”

1988The first time at legendary punk club 924 Gilman Street

“To us, Gilman Street in San Francisco was famous because it had been in [punk magazine] Maximumrocknroll. You picked up these copies and they wrote about the gigs they had, so it felt legendary to us before we’d even got there. It was this mythical place, because back then there were no steady venues for punk rock bands to play. You’d be playing at a veterans’ hall. So going up there for the first time was amazing, but it was also a little bit intimidating. It had a very communal vibe, of course, which was the idea of it. And also, Northern California has a very different mindset to Southern California. People are a little more spirited. There was the spirit of doing something that was good for the community. It was also the place where we first garnered a following. We could draw 100 people at Gilman, which we couldn’t do in Southern California.”

1993Going to London for the first time

“We opened for NOFX on that tour, which was a great way to come to Europe for the first time because they were selling out everywhere. It was very exciting because their fans knew who we were, because we were signed to Epitaph, and although we weren’t making a lot of money NOFX were nice enough to let us come on their bus. And Epitaph let us bring over a ton of CDs, boxes and boxes of [1992 second album] Ignition, and so we were selling about 50 copies a night, which felt like a lot to us at that time. It really was very exciting. And just being in London was incredible because it was our first time there.”

1994The Epitaph Summer Nationals shows at the Hollywood Palladium

“That was the Camelot moment when we realised that we were all in this together and that everything was wonderful. And it was. I think it was Epitaph’s idea to put on a big event, so we had three nights, with NOFX headlining one night, Pennywise was another, and then us. So it was just amazing to play these shows. You really felt you were part of a bigger thing and it was a very exciting moment to be on a bill with all these bands who were sharing the same kind of music, and camaraderie. It really was a great time.”

1994Being invited to play The Billboard Music Awards ceremony

“We had a very strange relationship with what you might call ‘the bigger media’. In a way it was tempting [to partake] because it was so huge, but at the same time it seemed so at odds with where we’d come from. It would have been weird to be on the cover of Rolling Stone the week after, say, Britney Spears. All this stuff, in retrospect, seems kind of weird, like, who cares? But at the time it was really important… But this was the only [TV awards show] we did, because they basically said we could do whatever we wanted. So we said yes, and then when we got there they said, ‘Okay, so you’re going to play Come Out And Play, right?’ They wanted the big hit, as they would – as they should. And maybe we should have just played it. What were we trying to prove, exactly? We were performing on a national television station, we didn’t need to prove how punk we are. But we wanted to go against the grain, so we ended up doing Bad Habit. The part of that whole thing that I really remember is that I wanted to do a stage-dive, which I’d done at all of our shows, but at this show the people were mostly wearing formal wear. When I leapt, I could see the terrified look in their eyes. They’d never had a singer jump off the stage and onto them before…”

1999Being a sensible voice at Woodstock

“We wanted to be a part of it. We thought it would be a moment in time. We played on the first day, and although things didn’t really go crazy until the third day, you could already feel a tension in the air. You could feel that something was not quite right in the crowd. I got hit in the face with a bottle. You talk about male rage, which is a very apt description [because] you had Limp Bizkit and bands like that who made testosterone-fuelled music. And I think punk shared a lot of that, too, but it also has more of a message. For sure, we didn’t really have the crowd that day, at least until we got to Pretty Fly… and Come Out And Play, and you could see from the mosh-pits that it was more violent than friendly. And also you could see that a lot of the girls who were crowd-surfing were really getting groped by the guys. It bothered me and I did start calling it out, and I did it because it felt like the right thing to do. Today it feels as if I was unknowingly on the right side of history in calling that stuff out.”

2000When The Angels Sing benefit for the family of Social Distortion’s late Dennis Danell

“What a bill. As well as Pennywise, we had Social Distortion, T.S.O.L. and X play with us that night. The fact that we were able to put this bill together was amazing, but being able to share the love was a big thing for us when we started getting popular. People didn’t know about punk bands, so we were like, ‘You’ve got to check out Social Distortion, you’ve got to check out the Adolescents…’ We really wanted to celebrate the bands that inspired us. So in a way, that night we really were sharing a stage with our heroes.”

2002Headlining Summer Sonic Festival

“That was a very memorable gig because it was just so big. We were headlining in this giant baseball stadium, but NOFX were also on the bill, and I think that No Doubt were on before them. I remember that the gig wasn’t that long after Americana [1998], so it was great to see how songs such as Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) and The Kids Aren’t Alright were connecting with people. It was real hysteria during the show. But at the same time, we were there with NOFX and No Doubt, who were our friends, which changed the atmosphere backstage. Usually, those events can be rather uptight – I want to say high-fashion – but this felt like it was a pub backstage. We’d look out at the audience, which was ridiculously huge, and then having a laugh with our friends while passing the Jäger.”

2012Playing the Bataclan in Paris

“The reason Bataclan is so meaningful is because they had the terrorist shooting there [in 2015]. It’s the tragedy that makes me think of the place, really. When people learn of a violent event, it seems so out of the ordinary that you never imagine it can happen to you. That’s always the story you hear. But that event really drove home to us how this stuff is real, and it affects everyone even a continent away. It was just very, very sad. It was very sad that it affected people who come together to receive joy. I have friends in France who were at the show and were describing the horrors of people being shot in front of them. It was just a really horrific event. But I have great memories of the place simply because the décor is so unique… majestic, almost.”

2021Returning to Wembley after COVID

“It was great to be in London, as it always is, especially because I guess during that time [of COVID] not that many bands from the States were touring the UK. But I tell you, we came over from mainland Europe, where the protocols were super-strict. Everyone was wearing masks all the time. Then we got to the UK and it was the exact opposite. Honestly, it was like going from San Francisco to Texas. I guess you guys just got bored of it or something.”

2022A massive, “fulfilling” Canadian gig

“This was the biggest show of our last Canadian tour, so it was a really great experience. Also, we were playing at the home of the [Montreal] Canadiens hockey team, who in a way represent Canada, so that too was a great experience. What was so cool is that we’ve been around a long time, yet there we were having our biggest headline tour of Canada. It was a very fulfilling moment. I also felt at that show in Montreal that you had the kids at the front and their parents at the back. It really did feel like we had it all.”

2022Playing to half a million people at Rock In Rio

“Rock In Rio is the definition of massive. You go there and you say, ‘Well, how many people do we have today?’ And one person will say 300,000, and another will say 500,000, and you just don’t know what the real number is. But no-one says fewer than 300,000. It’s pretty big. I’ve often said that there’s almost a point where you can be more nervous in a small club because in that setting you can really see their faces and stuff. You feel like they’re watching you. And you can be nervous in front of 20,000 people, too, but once it goes past 50,000 it’s like you can barely register them out there. Rock In Rio was definitely one of those days.”

The Offspring headline Slam Dunk Festival this month. This article originally appeared in the spring issue of the magazine.

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