The only thing more amazing than Bad Brains' fusion of Jah-inspired dub and D.C. hardcore is the band's volatility, as disagreements over musical direction, drug problems, and failed mainstream success have led to a series of breakups worthy of Melrose Place. The foursome -- featuring vocalist H.R., bassist Darryl Jennifer, guitarist Dr. Know, and drummer Earl Hudson (H.R.'s brother) -- originally parted ways back in 1983 following a blowout over their second studio release, Rock for Light. The album bore testament to the power of Bad Brains onstage, as H.R.'s epileptic movements and vocal shrieks electrified the mix of reggae and punk, while Dr. Know's cuisinart axe-style effortlessly moved from the soft bounce of the former to the crunch of the latter. Unfortunately, the ease with which they fused reggae and punk didn't carry beyond the music: The Hudson brothers split to form a reggae band, Human Rights, while Dr. Know and Jennifer stayed hardcore. But Bad Brains managed to reunite with new ideas: In 1986 the quartet cut I Against I, a funk-infused hardcore opus fueled by frenetic breaks and bulldozer riffs. The album featured such classics as "Re-Ignition," "I Against I," and "Return to Heaven," and the production brought out the best of the Brains -- Dr. Know's searing guitar riffs up front in the mix, pulled along by Jennifer's funk-laden bass.
Since then, Bad Brains have produced a few forgettable albums while managing to hold on to their legendary punk status with brazen live sets. Although most tours ended abruptly -- the 1995 tour landed H.R. in jail for battery -- musicians from Living Color to the Beastie Boys consider the band a major influence. This recent outing is good chance to see for yourself why this band is one of punk rock's most influential -- and self-destructive -- acts since the Sex Pistols.
-- Robert Arriaga
A Bad Brains reunion featuring all original members happens on Friday, Nov. 13, at 9 p.m. at Maritime Hall (450 Harrison at First Street). Admission is $20-22; call 974-0634.