Friday, March 11, 2012
Better than: Posing for a Raymond Pettibon drawing.
At Slim's on Friday, OFF! demonstrated the potency of throwback hardcore delivered with surgical precision by seasoned players. But singer Keith Morris should stop trying to qualify his band by expounding its members' history. Their performances do that convincingly on their own.
Drummer Mario Rubalcaba berated his instrument like a butcher deftly carving flesh from the bone. He appropriated the accents and stylistic flourishes of early '80s American hardcore records with studied grace, and inserted his own fierce but exact technique brilliantly. Dimitri Coats and Steven Mcdonald were in utter command of their respective guitar and bass tones, cultivating a gritty wash for Keith Morris to wail over. Coats was relatively stoic, while McDonald wielded his bass at a stylized angle and performed with an attention-grabbing swagger. All instrumentalists confidently navigated the jolting rhythms and uptempo urgency of OFF!'s blistering cannon of short, angry songs. Their natural skill at playing early '80s hardcore is not surprising, considering Mcdonald and Morris were both members of seminal Los Angeles punk bands in the '80s. But the group's unabashed throwback style is more of a revisiting than a pastiche.
The immediacy of the band's recordings is partly due to the up-front mixing of Morris' vocals, but it was immediately apparent live that this was not just a case of studio trickery. He projected the choruses of "Darkness," "Crawl," and "Blast" with conviction and volume -- all the while engaging with the chaotic scene at the front of the crowd, where a consistent stream of aspiring stage divers clambered on stage and leapt off (but not before kissing Morris or bizarrely performing a one armed push-up). Despite some balding at the roots of his dreadlocks, Morris has looked quite the same since the '90s, and his performance impressively seems to have remained at its peak of physical prowess, charisma, professionalism, and vitality ever since.
The only unfortunate ramification of Morris' experience appeared to be a backwards-looking credential obsession, based on his banter Friday. The first thing that Morris did upon facing the packed crowd at Slim's was run off the credentials of OFF!'s other three members. For a front man to introduce his band is customary, but recalling in detail each member's punk history seemed gratuitous. Part of OFF!'s appeal is its status as a punk supergroup, with members hailing from Redd Kross, Burning Brides, Rocket From The Crypt, Ze Malibu Kids, Clikatat Ikatowi, Black Heart Procession, The Sultans, Hot Snakes, Earthless, Black Flag, and The Circle Jerks. But Keith Morris ran off these credentials at least three times during the show. If the above list seems redundant in text, imagine it repeatedly verbalized in between punk songs that rarely exceed two and a half minutes.
OFF! is not at the forefront of a hardcore renaissance or punk revitalization. There are droves of punk bands that similarly hearken back to '80s American hardcore, but don't have the benefit of journeymen members and Vice Records promotion. That said, based on Friday's mighty performance, OFF! deserves the adoration. Let's only hope that the band revitalizes interest in other facets of the flourishing contemporary punk scene.
Openers: When we covered Fidlar's show earlier this year at Noise Pop, the band's juvenile obstinacy, tight performance, and flippant exuberance made for one of the most pleasant surprises of the festival. Fortunately, we caught its second San Francisco performance as main support for OFF! The members' reckless charm had expanded to accommodate the significantly larger crowd. Their first song was about smoking weed, the second was about drinking cheap beer, and during the third their vocalist fell over and became entangled in cables, but returned to enunciate a fourth song about rehab. Each member violently flailed and wrangled their instrument, but the group dished out garage-punk screeds with class that defied its members' age and experience.
Early in the set, the lead singer and guitarist said, "This place is big! Is their, like, old dudes in the back and young people up front?" Yes, that was precisely the case, but the young people up front responded to Fidlar with energetic jostling usually reserved for headliners. The singer seemed confounded by his band's quick ascension from Café Du Nord to Slim's, but commanded the room's attention nonetheless. He spent each spare moment away from the microphone strangling his guitar neck and slashing its body with primal rock 'n' roll abandon. During their last song, he bounded into the crowd, microphone in hand, and the receptive audience successfully floated him back to the stage with ritualistic duty, as if compelled by the legitimate vitality in Fidlar's performance.