OFF!, Trash Talk and Cerebral Ballzy at The Middle East downstairs, Cambridge MA, 28Mar11.
The saying that you can never go home has more than a fair bit of validity to it, but that can't stop one from hopping in the car and at least visiting the old neighborhood. And that's exactly what vaunted punk rock icon Keith Morris did when he founded his new band, OFF!. With that namesake riffing on his Black Flag roots, the band also contains old friend and fellow LA survivor of the nascent punk scene Steve McDonald of Redd Kross, drummer extraordinaire Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket From The Crypt/Hot Snakes/Earthless) and guitarist Dmitri Coats (Burning Brides). It was Coats and Morris who jump started the band, after the sessions that Coats was overseeing for a new Circle Jerks record ended in splinters, and the duo grabbed some of the material they'd been working on to form the new record.
Right down the Pettibon cover art, the release (originally broken into a box set of four seven inch singles) throws off a heady whiff of the late '70s scene that spawned so many great bands...it's almost like getting a whiff of The Masque or the Hong Kong when you pop the lid off the box. Short, sharp, focused punk rock. That was the original recipe, and OFF! plays to this blueprint with the confidence,ability and presence that can only be earned by having lived it in the first place. Morris, his dreads hanging a bit shorter than they'd been, was the clear ringleader, and when not bellowing into the microphone about injustice, depression, or anger, he would take the opportunity between songs to speak what was on his mind. Coats and McDonald were tighter than a nun's <censored>, and Rubalcaba was a clear force in driving the songs forward. The songs were pint-sized kegs of dynamite, erupting and going full throttle for sixty seconds, and then the band would reload and fire off another. A trend that's been steadily picking up steam is the 'play your entire album' meme, and tonight the band was pretty much consigned to following suit, as they've only got one record and roughly 35 minutes of material to play. Once they reached the end of the set list, any hopes of classic Black Flag or Circle Jerks songs were dashed, as Morris told the crowd that they've had limited rehearsal time and that's all they had. So, they decided to start at the top again, and played the first two songs of the set as an encore (with "Black Thoughts" finding McDonald behind the drums and Rubalcaba on bass). If you missed the first wave of punk rock (and the packed crowd was a good split between those who'd been there, and those who wished they had been), do what you can to catch this band. It's no museum piece.
Trash Talk has been tour partners with OFF! and instead of taking on late 70s punk rock as the template, they find inspiration with its' bastard child, hardcore. The circle pit was fierce, bodys milling like molecules on the verge of reaching boiling point, arms and legs wildly flailing about, not caring if they struck air or flesh. Singer Lee Spielman got fully into the act too, sometimes propelling himself headlong into the crowd (and one time, onto my head) and stalking the pit or walking on the bar, goading the crowd into fever pitch. Security had their hands full all night, and certainly people went home with assorted bumps, bruises and cuts that they didn't have going in. About the only thing different from three decades ago was that the police didn't storm the venue and shut it down.