"I think it's okay to be angry," says Jesse Malin, the loquacious vocalist and frontman for the New York-based punk band D Generation. "We live in this fairy-tale culture where everything is supposed to have a happy ending. People tell you to buy these clothes, marry this girl, send your kids to these schools, eat these foods--and everything will be great. It's all such a fucking sham. Underneath it all, I think there's a darkness that people don't always talk about. That's what we try to sing about."
If these sentiments recall the credos of yesteryear--a period when acts like the Suicide Commandos ruled the underground and "punk" was still considered a four-letter word--it's no coincidence. The members of D Generation (Malin, guitarists Danny Sage and Richard Bacchus, bassist Howie Pyro and drummer Michael Wildwood) revel in the bygone days of DIY fundamentalism. Angry, rebellious and just plain nasty, these unruly East Siders play punk the way it was meant to be played--with one foot in a drunk tank and the other buried deep in society's groin.
Malin and his mates have had plenty of time to develop their nihilistic style. The five have been playing together in outfits with names like Heart Attack, Hope and Freaks since the early Eighties. For Malin, playing punk rock provided an escape from what he saw as an incredibly stagnant music scene. "We all grew up together," he remembers, "and we used to check out a lot of bands when we were little kids--bands like Bad Brains and the Beastie Boys. We all fuckin' hated everything that was going on, like on the radio and in most of the clubs in New York. We didn't like what was happening at all. So instead of sitting in the corner complaining about how bad everything was, we decided to do something about it ourselves. Every time we put a band together, we would try to do something that we thought we would want to see and what we would want to hear."
With the formation of D Generation, these ideals bore fruit. Grafting the hardcore wails of the Germs and Black Flag onto the poppier rock associated with Cheap Trick and the Replacements, D Gen became an instant hit with both Big Apple scenesters and the executives at EMI/Chrysalis Records, who signed the band in 1993. The act's debut album, D Generation, emerged the following year. Featuring equal parts snot-nosed venom and abrasive, garage-inspired power pop, the platter received numerous accolades from the press as well as a fair share of airtime on alternative-rock radio stations. But EMI dumped the band anyway, for what Malin bitterly describes as political reasons. "We signed with them, and then just when the record was ready to come out, they basically fired everybody who signed us--the president of the company, our A&R person and the guy who added us. It was a whole new regime. The new president didn't want to be known for the other president's big signing, so we essentially got jerked.
"They were calling up radio stations telling them not to play us," he continues. "They pulled our tour support, so we had to go home because we weren't able to pay for anything anymore. They did everything they possibly could to screw us."
Rather than twisting silently in the wind, D Gen returned to New York and began shopping for a new label. After rejecting offers from several different suitors, the act inked with Columbia, which unleashed the album No Lunch on an unsuspecting public earlier this year. An aneurysm of a record, Lunch picks up where D Generation left off, intertwining snarling numbers like "Scorch" and "Frankie" with "Capital Offender," "Major" and other pop-rock nuggets. The result is an album that shares as much in common with the Who as it does with the Angry Samoans.
At the heart of these teen anthems are lyrics by Malin that recall Iggy Pop in his prime: Reference "I've seen the movies and the groovies/And I'm searching for a ruby/In the gutter with a promise/And I'm on my way" from the band's centerpiece, "No Way Out." Such cinematic screeds might seem like mere rock-star posturing on the printed page, but they become much more than that when Malin delivers them. He sounds so homicidal that, by song's end, you may find yourself checking your ears for nicks and cuts.
Part of No Lunch's rancorous appeal can be attributed to its no-nonsense production quality. Whereas D Generation seemed overwrought and even glammy at times, Lunch serves up the group raw. Malin attributes these improvements to Ric Ocasek, the ex-Car-turned-producer who oversaw the recording of the disc. "We decided to make the record with Ric because he had worked with the Bad Brains and Suicide, two weird, sickish-type bands that we like," Malin explains. "Plus, he was also kind of a pop guy. We really liked what he did with the Weezer record. He was just really cool. He created a real vibe for us. We wanted the record to be really lo-fi and alive-sounding. And I think he really captured that."
Still, No Lunch only hints at the power of D Generation's visceral live performances. On stage, the players, clad in regalia befitting the late Johnny Thunders, tear through their material like the punks of old, pausing only long enough to grunt out a token "thanks" or count off the next tune on the set list. "When people come to see us, we want them to have high expectations," Malin says. "And hopefully we won't let them down. For us, it's all about giving and getting--getting out there and fucking attacking."
Lately, the group has gotten a chance to do so in the company of punk veterans such as L7 and the Ramones, but it's the series of dates D Generation shared with KISS that get Malin most excited. "It was great!" he exclaims, sounding mildly star-struck. "They were really cool to us. Plus, we had never played arenas before, so it was a whole different kind of dynamic to be playing for all those people way up in the nosebleed seats. It was a challenge, though. It's tough playing to a whole arena of people who are really just there dying to see KISS."
At first this double bill seems inexplicable; even Malin feels that D Generation's music is "a little darker and dirtier" than that made by the gods of Seventies rock thunder. But he's just as reticent to see his band lumped with most fashionable Nineties punks. "Punk's an attitude," he declares. "It's a way of thinking and living. From the Clash to Neil Young to Motsrhead, it's a lifestyle. We're not trying to be bandwagon punk rock--the latest, hip trend of punk or whatever. Punk rock, and rock and roll in general, is about freedom and expression and some sense of rebellion.
"Our music is everything to us," he adds. "We like to get on stage and play like it's our last day on earth."
Social Distortion, with D Generation and Tenderloin. 8 p.m. Tuesday, December 10, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax, $15, 830-2525 or 1-800-444-
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