After World War II, youth culture in America was in rebellion. Rock ‘n’ roll, fast cars, casual dress, surfing and other principles of recalcitrance were all established during this era. Still, there was an understood endpoint to the period in which it was acceptable for any person to identify with these juvenile archetypes.
Rock ‘n’ roll was for teens. Surfing – to borrow a phrase from Johnny Utah – was practiced by “rubber people who don’t shave yet.” Even as rock ‘n’ roll gave way to punk and surfing brought about skateboarding, the stereotypes linking these interests to adolescence persisted. Carelessly hurling your body against myriad hard surfaces or shouting vulgarities into a microphone, it seemed, required the kind of angst and audacity that only comes from a lack of experience or wisdom.
Only in the last decade or so have things started to change. The Rolling Stones continue to tour with the alacrity of bands half their age. Here in Northeast Florida, a survey of any lineup will show at least a few “grey-hairs” atop large, voluminous surf crafts. Kona Skate Park now hosts Old School Night, wherein grown men with creaking knees and beer guts shred the pool with pluck enough to rival any misguided youth.
As refusing to grow up has become the most Punk AF action one can undertake, local skate punk band The Concrete Criminals have been working hard to do just that.
Criminals drummer Lang Sheppard has been avoiding maturation for decades. While living in Oahu in the early 2000s, Sheppard had plenty of time to surf and skate in between gigs documenting surf contests like The Triple Crown and the In Memory of Eddie Aikau for brands like Quiksilver. Though some years past his post-teenage-angst prime, Sheppard discovered many willing punk partnerships among the island’s saturated skate and surf scenes. He even started a band with legendary Z-boy, Jay Adams. Fittingly, the short-lived band was named TYTL (or Twenty Years Too Late).
After finding a receptive audience for these postpartum punk endeavors, Sheppard set about promoting a monthly showcase. Once-A-Month Punk! (OAMP) brought top-notch punks to The Waikiki Sandbox, including Misdemeanor and Old Habits Die Hard.
Eventually, Sheppard moved back to Jacksonville. Meanwhile, Criminals bassist Sean Piper’s former band Poor Richards was falling apart. Like Sheppard, Piper – a surfer, skater, surfboard shaper and musician – has a predilection for sticking with things that society expects us to cast away after a certain age (though the 34-year-old Piper does so with a full-time job and two young kids).
“I wasn’t done playing music when Poor Richards broke up,” Piper says. “I still wanted to play punk because, well, that’s all I’m good at.”
Piper was introduced to Sheppard through Rat Town Records founder and former Creeps drummer Danny Kneirman. After adding “Cousin” Matt Warren on vocals and David Larson on guitar, the quartet recorded the compilation Guilty as Charged. From Guilty’s opening track, “Gone Are the Days” (which features the refrain “Surf all day, skate all night!”), the band thrashes through all five songs in less than eight minutes, culminating with what may be the angriest PSA of all time, “Watch for Children.”
Songwriting for the Criminals is a product of the good kind of groupthink. Unscripted jamming might reveal a melody to which Piper and/or Warren will add lyrics, with Larsen and Sheppard adding fills, riffs and tempo changes. There’s an ease to the creative process that’s no doubt helped along by mutual musical interests.
“Lang and I talk a lot about bands we like on the way from the beach to ‘The Crime Lab,'” Piper says of the weekly drive to Warren’s house on Jacksonville’s Northside. “We were both really inspired by skate punk bands like Suicidal Tendencies and JFA.”
Though skating remained a consistent muse, the band’s second EP, 2015’s Drug Nation, shows there’s a willingness to attack more mature subject matter, including rampant opiate addiction plaguing rural areas of the U.S. True to form, however, Drug Nation also features the anthemic “Growing Up is for Poseurs” – a song that might as well be the band’s mantra.
“I feel like I’m less mature now than I was when I was a teenager,” Piper laughs. “I’m still getting tattoos and playing in punk bands and shaping surfboards. You’re supposed to grow out of that stuff. I feel like Benjamin Button.”
Since forming, the Criminals have had the chance to play with some of their idols, opening for punk icons Battalion of Saints, The Vibrators, Agnostic Front, D.R.I. and Reagan Youth. They’ve also inundated themselves in the relatively vibrant local skate-punk scene, cutting a split seven-inch vinyl with The Wastedist in late 2016. While mostly traversing familiar terrain on songs like “Slappy Seconds” and “Roll On,” the three-track offering also introduced a few politically charged themes. Opening with a customized recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance over Piper’s furious bass riff, “American Despair” includes a fiery critique of the military industrial complex. Piper wrote the song while serving his second tour of duty during the American invasion of Iraq in ’03.
“I actually wrote a lot of stuff while I was there,” says Piper, a Citadel graduate and a former captain in the U.S. Army. “I saw a lot of wasteful and just senseless shit. I didn’t believe in the war and I was having a hard time with it.”
With its upcoming release Coping Mechanism, the Criminals hope to bridge the gap between some of the more flippant, esoteric skate-punk tunes and the flippant political ones.
In the meantime, Sheppard is bringing Once-A-Month Punk! to Jax Beach. With the Criminals serving as the de-facto house band at Blue Water Daiquiri & Oyster Bar, OAMP features local and touring acts every third Thursday of each month. The first OAMP on March 16 celebrates the opening of the new public South Beach skate park in Jax Beach.
“The name is kind of kitschy,” Sheppard says of OAMP. “But the idea is that it’s for everybody – nerds, kooks, weirdoes, punks, metal heads, old, young – it doesn’t matter. Just come have fun.”