Saturday, May 17, 2014

Off! at the Bowery Ballroom

Keith Morris
Dimitri Coats, vocalist/guitarist of Burning Brides, was producing an album for the reunited Circle Jerks in 2009, but the album fell apart. Coats and  the Circle Jerks' lead singer, Keith Morris, had written a few songs together, and so they formed a new band with bassist Steven Shane McDonald of Redd Kross and drummer Mario Rubalcaba of Rocket From The Crypt. Some 30 years after the birth of hardcore punk, the genre had its first Los Angeles-based pedigree supergroup. The band released its third album, Wasted Years, in April.

Hardcore punk largely faded in the 1980s with new bands forging new hybrids of hardcore punk with pop, heavy metal, industrial and other forms of music. At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Off! was more than a revival, it was the booming canon announcing that the original sound of hardcore music is still loud, powerful and commanding. At 58 years of age, the dreadlocked Morris was still the character he was when he co-founded Black Flag in 1976 and the Circle Jerks in 1979; he was an energetic shouter during the songs and an endless rambler between songs.

As Off! took the stage, rowdy fans threw cups of beer to the stage. Morris took the microphone and reprimanded the beer-tossers, talked about the beautiful weather, casually introduced the band members and then concluded, "...and we are OFF!" The hour-long set launched with "Void You Out," the first song from the newest album, and the fans responded by punching fists high in the air and forming a reckless mosh pit. Stage divers followed during the second song, "Black Thoughts," the opening track from the band's debut album. So it went, fierce rock played expertly by four talented and experienced punk rockers who kept it all loud, energetic and dynamic. As McDonald and Rubalcaba interlocked the hard and speedy rhythms, Morris provided the screeches. Coats, meanwhile, powered the songs with fast guitar leads and hard and heavy riffs, and dove into the audience to crowd surf several times, shredding solos as he was carried back onto the stage. The audience responded particularly to older tracks like "Poison City", "I Got News For You," "Darkness," "Jeffery Lee Pierce," and "Panic Attack," but also thrashed to new songs including "Hypnotized", " No Easy Escape" and "Red White and Black."

Twenty-two songs and lots of banter filled the hour. Considering than many songs were about two-minutes long, Morris' gabfest were sometimes longer than the songs he introduced. Frequently, Morris asked the crowd, "Are we having fun?" Between songs, Morris spoke about how the tour is promoting the new album, praised the other bands on the bill, recalled anecdotes from his years in the music industry, hinted about the drawn-out legal battle with Black Flag co-founder Greg Ginn, and interacted with many hecklers, especially those who told him to stop talking and play music. As the band was about to start the double encore of "I Don't Belong" and "Upside Down," Morris told the audience, "The best thing about St. Petersburg, Florida, is the Salvador Dali Museum because he is a true hero." What? The hecklers were justified, but Morris was a terrific billboard for a punk renaissance and Off! put on a fine high-octane, stripped-down garage punk show.

Visit Off! at www.offofficial.com.