The anthemic, Clash-esque Coronado band the Front was finishing their set, opening for Johnny Thunders at the Spirit (now Brick by Brick) on March 20, 1986. After vigorous punk ’n’ roll originals, some reggae, a Bo Diddley beat, and a rousing cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else,” the four-piece was ready to close. Singer-guitarist Mark Baez approached the mic when a heckler commenced: “Hey, you guys are boring!”
“Alright, this is our last song, thanks a lot,” said Baez.
“It’s called ‘Distant Guns...’”
“...It’s called ‘Your Mama,’” smiled Baez, familiar with SD’s difficult punk audiences of the era.
Informed consensus holds that the Front was one of San Diego’s better bands, certainly among the mid ’80s’ best. They coalesced in Coronado in 1982, where lead guitarist Morgan Smith and the oft-politically minded Baez graduated high school. Drummer Dan Mehlos from Imperial Beach and National City bassist Kevin Chanel (younger brother of Zeros drummer Baba) completed the line-up.
“Our formation and practices were in Coronado — we always ID’d as [from] ’Nado,” says Chanel, who formed his seminal Scheming Intelligentsia Records label to put out the Front’s Man, You Gotta Move EP in 1984.
“[But we were] a 1977 punk band in the hardcore era. Our sound did not fit the time for the shows we were playing.... I listen to Man now and can’t believe it wasn’t better received.” Yet they opened for many underground acts, including Black Flag, Social Distortion, the Cramps, GBH, TSOL, even Jane’s Addiction, before breaking up in 1987.
Chanel’s favorite gigs include various Tijuana/Rosarito Beach shows, the Hardcore Picnic at Mariner’s Point in ’85, and as Minutemen openers: “[Minutemen bassist Mike] Watt let me borrow his bass, which was twice the size of the one I was using [mine broke during sound check], and we became friends.”
Baez’s lyrical bent and impassioned, raw vocals earned Joe Strummer comparisons. “Mark had a keen ear for political discourse, beyond his years at the time,” observes Chanel, though not seeing their Clash likeness as much. “Now, the Alarm, I don’t think any of us liked them, but...that comparison comes closer somehow...I know people appreciated us to some degree, but we really fell in the cracks of history with the crushed ants and pebbles.”
The Front played a reunion show/discography-release event at the Casbah on January 28, 2011. Another reunion was staged in July 2018 at the Casbah, originally scheduled for Til Two until tickets for the show, which included reunions of locals Social Spit and Personal Conflict, began selling briskly.