In 2002, someone planted some homemade bombs — dry-ice sealed in plastic jugs — at the apartment of Unwritten Law guitarist Steve Morris. MTV’s website said that the bombing was the result of a feud between Morris and a neighbor over noise coming from the guitarist’s apartment. Morris suffered a concussion and temporary hearing loss from the blast, damage enough to pull the plug on a number of shows. This is the worst thing that has happened to Unwritten Law, but that’s not saying much: this is a band that got kicked off one of the Warped Tours for inciting a crowd-level food fight and on another occasion caused thousands of dollars in damage to a home they were renting.
San Diego was home to a strong punk-pop scene in the early 1990s, and Unwritten Law, blink-182, and Sprung Monkey were among the biggest players. Each band, to varying degrees, got national attention. Like blink, Unwritten Law was a Poway band with sophisticated songwriting skills and a worldview made-to-order for Vans and Warped tours. They nailed the concept of the three-minute power ballad and had a hit early on with “Seein’ Red” and, later, “Up All Night.”
There was a formula behind that music: sensitive vocals and scorching guitars playing big, orgiastic power chords at the chorus. Guitar solos were avoided. A surprise: every so often, Unwritten Law lyrics would shed some insight into life situations. “And nothin’ matters/ ’Cause there’s no one here/ And I’ve lost my fear.” That’s from “Teenage Suicide,” and hardly the sort of progressive Jungian thinking one might expect from a band of pleasure seekers. Live and Lawless from 2008 is the band’s best record by far. And proof, I think, that like all party units, Unwritten Law is best experienced live.
UNWRITTEN LAW: House of Blues, Sunday, December 20, 7 p.m. 619-299-2583. $20.