Bad Brains and Off – Live review from SXSW
I’ve been waiting thirty odd years to see the Bad Brains.
I know they have played the UK a few times but there are some bands that you are just destined to miss.
And here we are in Emos in Austin Texas During the music jamboree, SXSW, destined to finally meet eachother in a live showdown.
First up, though, is Keith Morris ex Black Flag and Cicrle Jerks totally wired frontman- ÃÂ whose new band, Off!, was one of the Louder Than War top albums of last year.
Made up of a brilliantly ragbag collection of hardcore veterans from Red Kross to Rocket from the Crypt this band know their punk rock chops. They potter onto the stage whilst Morris goes into one of his long and winding stories talking about punk rock, his hometown LA and tonight’s venue before crashing into the first of many ninety second long salvos of speednik hardcore.
What Off! have done so successfully and so many others find so hard to do is to find the stripped down essence of what punk rock was all about. It just isn’t that easy to make music this succinct and this deceptively simple and Off! have got it nailed. The band is razor tight but it’s Morris who adds the crucial edge. Not that the band are under playing- the musicianship is exemplary and razor tight but it’s Morris’s yelping, brattish vocal that are the signature being perpetually set to teenage strop mode as he tears through the set.ÃÂ
This is brutal minimalism at its best and the band will tear up the Uk when they finally make it over.
Just before he leaves the stage Morris launches into another one of his talks telling the audience that no-one can follow the Bad Brains and is perfectly happy to go on before fellow punk rock legends.
And no matter how genius Off! are he’s kinda right when Bad Brains enter the stage a whole different vibe fills the room.
This is a band that have stretched the fabric in every way possible- brilliant players who could have gone on to play any style of music but chose punk rock as their vehicle because they saw something in it that no-once else could. Just by this switch in style they then went on to invent hardcore by mistake. This was because with their adept musicianship they came up with all kind of tempo changes and breakdowns that have become staple in modern rock music. They could also play brilliant reggae and dub and their set is still peppered with those two styles making up its backbone,.
They were one of the few all black acts in punk along with precursors Death and contemporaries Pure Hell and brought in flavours that the skinny white boys couldn’t even imagine. Ian Mackaye and Henry Rollins, who grew up in Washington DC where the band were based at the time are still wide eyed about the power and ferocity and sheer originality of this band that saved their lives at teenage garage parties they attended and there are few groundbreaking bands in American rock that can’t trace their roots back to the Bad Brains.
The old Bad Brains were about a kinetic and wild energy with frontman HR tearing up the stage, this has been replaced by a serene almost spiritual vibe oozing from the man who has been hero and villain to the underground for years. In 2011 he is embraced again and the seething crowd become part of the show with wild eyed stage diving and an open armed response to this most idiosyncratic of bands.The playing is still spot on and the songs have a unique pulsating power of their own.ÃÂ
The way they still switch from one style to another is breath taking and they command both the high speed thrills of hardcore and the soothing salvation of reggae with ease.
HR stands there calm and saintlike as the cacophony seethes around him. It’s all quite special and underlines the freak power of this most key of bands- a band that took the esoteric and turned it into a moshpit and a band that are still very much turned on by the spiritual raw power of feral punk rock and brilliantly understood that you could find your god in the three chord trick.