Not long before he’d become frontman for the iconic Santa Cruz hardcore band Bl’ast, Clifford Dinsmore saw legendary punkers Fear play in San Francisco.
This was almost a year before Fear and its leader Lee Ving got a huge dose of notoriety for their appearance in L.A. punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, and for getting banned for life from Saturday Night Live after orchestrating one of the most punk moments ever shown on national television in their 1981 Halloween appearance.
At the time, Ving’s absolute lust for antagonizing audiences wasn’t well-known outside of SoCal, but Dinsmore got to see it firsthand.
“It was almost scary,” he says, “because Lee would get people to the point where it was going to turn into a riot, and everyone was going to kill Fear. Like, the whole audience was going to murder them. They’re trying to get on stage, spitting at him, and Lee just keeps insulting them and badgering them to the point where the whole thing is going to turn into a violent frenzy.”
And this is before the show started.
“Then they launch into the first song, and the whole place goes ballistic,” says Dinsmore. “And everyone forgets that it even happened, because [the set] was so rad.”
In 2014, Dinsmore got to work with Ving in the punk supergroup Teenage Time Killers, which also featured Dave Grohl, Jello Biafra and Matt Skiba among the two dozen guests on its roll call. But when Dinsmore’s own supergroup Seized Up plays its first show in San Jose this week, opening for Fear at the Ritz, he’ll probably have a much better feel for where Ving is coming from. Because over the last two years, it seems like everyone and everything is trying to kill his band.
Dinsmore was dealing with chemotherapy in 2020 before Seized Up put out its brilliant first record Brace Yourself. In May, as the band was planning its in-progress second album, he had a bone marrow transplant following another cancer diagnosis. Meanwhile, Seized Up bassist Chuck Platt, also of Good Riddance, was hospitalized in January after being hit by a car. Back in 2019, the year Seized Up first formed, drummer Andy Granelli’s other band the Distillers had to cancel a U.S. tour after his hands were badly injured when they collided with a kicked-open car door while he was riding his bike; they required 40 stitches.
It’s been enough to make Dinsmore rethink the band’s name.
“It almost makes me want to change the name to Freed Up or Lighten Up, some happier name. I just want to do a record without having some kind of insane cancer treatment, or someone getting hit by a car or whatever,” he says. “It’s just, like, we’ve been seized up enough. It’s definitely been an appropriate name in that sense.”
At least Dinsmore has drawn inspiration from the adversity. His hospital stays have fueled the powerfully sharp political and social critiques that have become the trademark of his lyrics in Seized Up.
“I was just basically bedridden, and just reading the news for comic entertainment,” he says. “You can’t help but read it and literally laugh, because it’s so fucking idiotic. But at the same time, you realize it’s not funny. So I was kind of soaking in more information. That was probably reflected in the lyrics. And the fact that I could be potentially dying just made me like, ‘I don’t give a fucking shit what I say or what I write about it, or if it pisses someone off, because, who knows, I might not be here tomorrow. I’m gonna say what’s on my mind.”
Now that the band is playing together again and preparing to go into the studio, fans can expect the forthcoming record to build on the heavy mix of punk and post-hardcore that defined Brace Yourself. Two of the new songs, “Mind Field” and “United in Frustration,” are set to make their live debut at this week’s Ritz show.
“They’re hard songs to do, from a new-song point of view,” Dinsmore says. “I think we’ve practiced enough to where it’s gonna be great, but it’s kind of like, ‘OK, here we go.’”
Fri 8pm, $40
The Ritz, San Jose