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Monday, October 1, 2012

Welcome to Storytellers. We're OFF!

Posted by on Mon, Oct 1, 2012 at 2:50 PM

Keith Morris of OFF!, onstage in Raleigh
  • Photo by Jake Thomas
  • Keith Morris of OFF!, onstage in Raleigh

OFF!, Negative Approach, Double Negative
Kings
Sept. 30, 2012

Supergroups almost always seem better in principle than in practice. It’s unfair, after all, to task a group of respected artists with overcoming their collective résumé, but that’s the job at hand: Remind us of your past glories, and feed us something fresh.

OFF! is the preservationist hardcore quartet comprising original Black Flag and Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris, Redd Kross bassist Steven McDonald, Burning Brides guitarist Dimitri Coats and Rocket From The Crypt drummer Mario Rubalcaba. The band introduced itself in 2010 with a series of four EPs, packed with minute-long bursts of piss-and-vinegar fury stunningly similar to Morris’ early-’80s landmarks. This year’s self-titled full-length debut carried the same torch, though songs romanticizing the early Southern California punk scene and lambasting former bandmates shackled the band to its frontman’s legacy. So far, nostalgia has been OFF!’s greatest strength and liability.

Live, in front of a capacity crowd at Kings, OFF! offered both edges of that sword. Their performance was precise and animated. Coats, in particular, gave vitality to the set, lunging at the crowd and swinging his guitar like a weapon. He’s a sharp riff-writer, too; indeed, the experience all four players bring to the band showed in their tight performances and interlocking, complementary parts. When the band blazed through its set-list, the past became trivia. Bodies flailed and flew off the stage as OFF! ripped through songs like “Now I’m Pissed” and “Borrow And Bomb.”

The night ended strong, too: At 11:57 p.m., Morris announced the band would play four more songs. By 12:01 a.m., they were unplugging instruments.

I won’t count myself among the converts just yet. The set stalled more than once as Morris regaled the crowd with lengthy introductions. To introduce “Peace In Hermosa,” he romanticized the early Southern California punk scene, with memories of watching bands like The Bags and X in Hollywood as Black Flag and Redd Kross played their first basement gigs. Before “Borrow and Bomb,” Morris preached the importance of voting (because they don’t want you to vote, he said), and lambasted politicians on both sides of party lines. “Jeffrey Lee Pierce” couldn’t begin until Morris has explained the importance of his friend, the late Gun Club frontman who died in 1996. These Storytellers-like interludes broke momentum and encouraged heckling from the crowd. One particularly tenacious heckler seemed to have an unhealthy preoccupation with Ted Nugent, much to Morris’ chagrin. Worst, though, they trapped OFF! in amber.

The band might’ve taken a few more cues from Negative Approach, reunited after almost 30 years, who simply let their music go hard. The influential Detroit foursome roared through most of the self-titled 1982 EP and 1983’s full-length, Tied Down. This show obviously couldn’t compare to a VFW Hall in 1983, so it didn’t try to. With the benefit of Kings’ clear mix, it was easy to hear the innovations in Negative Approach’s old songs, to trace their trail from the Ramones’ streamlined riffing to the Jesus Lizard’s scathing noise-rock.

Frontman John Brannon was ferocious, though his voice seemed to have tightened, giving him a higher timbre and less exacting enunciation than on the old records. Hardly a criticism, that evolution brought him closer to the harsher sound of the metal bands Negative Approach also inspired.

Ironically, it was the old band playing old songs that best complemented the upstart opener, Double Negative, whose searing caterwaul gave a definitive proof that hardcore needn’t rely on its past to maintain its currency. Double Negative’s music never hides its roots in bands like Black Flag or Negative Approach. Rather, it grows beyond them.

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