Members of the Offspring have had trouble hearing each other on stage recently, and it's not because their ears are ringing from three decades' worth of thunderous power chords and squealing guitar solos. Quite the opposite: They're getting overpowered by audiences singing along with their acoustic sets.
That's right — the Offspring have gone acoustic.
Maybe they should have anticipated a strong reaction. The seminal pop-punk band out of Southern California is known for hits like "Come Out and Play," "Self Esteem," "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)," "Why Don't You Get a Job?" and "The Kids Aren't Alright," all of which are alt-rock anthems that should be at least passingly familiar to people who grew up in the 1990s. Given the ubiquity of those big, melodic choruses — and all the "heys" and "whoas" and "yeahs" — it's no surprise that their acoustic sets have resulted in some massive singalongs.
Longtime lead guitarist and backup vocalist Noodles tells the Inlander that eschewing amplification is a relatively new approach for the Offspring. They've done a handful of "silly and fun" acoustic sets over the years for radio promotions, but didn't consider it a viable format until they played seven acoustic songs during a benefit concert last November.
"We played at this benefit and it was just so much fun," he says. "The audience was really into it. We thought, 'We could go twice as long, do a full set and see how this works out.' We did five shows and the crowds were incredible, singing along and smiling the whole time."
In addition to screaming at the top of their lungs, attendees at the Offspring's upcoming Knitting Factory show can anticipate riffing between Noodles and frontman Dexter Holland, and beer-enhanced stories throughout the set. The show promises to be more of a personal experience than the rock concerts their fans are used to.
"There's a lot of looking people in the eye, because they're right there," Noodles says. "We crack wise, make japes, tell stories, you know?"
The electric-driven nature of many of the Offspring's hits make it tricky to put together a set of acoustic interpretations. For example, the palm-muted power chords, pick slides and whammy bar bends in the 1994 road-rage anthem "Bad Habit" are impossible to approximate on acoustic guitar, so they went in a totally different direction and made it jazzy. (That one isn't quite ready for showtime, though.) Playing unplugged represents a challenge, particularly for Noodles, whose nasty, feedback-driven guitar tone is wholly dependent on amplification. He plays a ukulele on the acoustic version of "Self Esteem" to mimic the song's high-register guitar parts, and occasionally busts out a resonator guitar to mix things up.
Other songs in the setlist are meant to be novelties, like a reggae rendition of "The Kids Aren't Alright" and "Da Hui," a deep cut off 2003's Splinter.
"It's this fast ball-breaker of a punk-rock song," Noodles says of "Da Hui." "So, when we play it acoustically, it's just kind of ridiculous."
Leaving the amps at home has helped everyone — the band included — see old songs in a new light.
"With all of them, you kind of see the songs from a different standpoint," he says. "We were goofing around, doing a country version of 'Walla Walla,' and how well that song works as a country song is kind of funny."
Though the band has spent a fair amount of time reworking old material, they've recently been writing and recording new music. Noodles confirmed that the Offspring's 10th studio album — the follow-up to Days Go By (2012) — is "in the can," and they have enough material to release another record within a year. However, they don't have a distribution deal worked out yet and they're still searching for the right partner.
Noodles says the forthcoming album is musically similar to the 2015 single "Coming for You," and the band's catalog as a whole. After making the same sort of fast-and-loose punk music for the past 30 years, they're not about to switch up their signature sound.
"It sounds like an Offspring record," he says. "It really does. There are a lot of straightforward punk-rock songs." ♦
The Offspring Acoustic Show with Johnny Two Bags • Sun, June 16 at 8 pm • $45 • All ages • Knitting Factory • 919 W. Sprague • sp.knittingfactory.com • 244-3279