The Last: South Bay's Criminally Underrated Punk Legends
The Last are nothing if not punk rock survivors. The group's seminal album L.A. Explosion! may not have garnered the attention nor accolades that other South Bay outfits received over the years, but it made a lasting impact in shaping the area's musical identity. The ferocity of that sound combined hardcore punk with a splash of surf pop that became the area's calling card, even if others made it more popular. Now 35 years after its release, the band is ready to revisit that album, even its activity has been sporadic at best over the past two decades.
Led by the brother duo of Joe and Mike Nolte, The Last has been through many incarnations over the years. Nicknamed the "Godfather of the South Bay punk scene," Joe Nolte formed the band in 1976 in his family's Hermosa Beach garage. The Last's first shows were at local house parties, which became the blueprint to how many Southern California punk bands hone their craft today. Their South Bay pedigree may not have spread as beyond the area like their contemporaries, but the impact of L.A. Explosion! remains a strong part, and one of the defining records that can still be heard in the local scene.
"I'm struggling to get used to the idea that all memory of me has been mostly consigned to the ashes of the ages," Nolte sighs. "But people seem to like it and what that little record had much more of an impact that you'd expect from the sales.
The group is celebrating its anniversary with a show at Alex's Bar that will feature guest spots from many of the musicians who played in the band over the years. These days The Last's regular lineup consists of Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez, who are also members of the Descendents. When the duo are busy touring with their other band, the singer calls upon other musicians to fill out the band.
"There will be about 15 old people in the crowd that will be very happy," Nolte jokes about the band's upcoming show at Alex's Bar.
Despite the group's short time in the punk spotlight, Nolte's outfit had a lasting impact on Southern California punk. The Last has been cited by members of Black Flag and The Bangles - Susanna Hoffs almost joined Nolte as a second singer in the early '80s - as one of the most important bands of their time. Though they came up around the same time, the singer jokes that the people have only heard of Black Flag and the Descendents. He doesn't say this is a sense of regret or bitterness, instead, he fondly compares The Last to "the ancient Chicago blues guys the English bands would talk about in the '60s that no one would have ever heard of."
At the end of 2013, The Last released Danger, its first record since 1996. That title was apropos to the health struggles that afflicted the outfit. Citing their less than ideal luck, Nolte had a stroke, which he still feels the effects of in his right hand. He couldn't play guitar for two years and while he can still play, he doesn't think he'll be able play as well he used to. Additionally, Alvarez had a heart attack and to trump that, Stevenson actually had a tumor and something Nolte describes as "a lung thing going on." Yet the singer remains upbeat, with attitude upbeat and barely able to contain excitement in his voice when he reminisces about the band's rich history.
The Last may not be as celebrated as their contemporaries, but their legacy, three and a half decades later, is cemented in South Bay punk history. Nolte doesn't lament the band's lack of popularity, instead, he relishes in it.
"I've had a lot of years to philosophically adjust to it," he says. "I've had enough experience to where I've been able to come to grips with it and let it be whatever it was, or to play in traffic. I chose not to play in traffic, but if we keep at it, I think I'll be able to be a teen idol by the time I'm 65."