Keith Morris walked out onto the stage at the Oakland Metro on April 9, 2014, looked down at the audience, frowned and said "To the guy that said the Circle Jerks sucked… I don't disagree." Then, in a classic bit of Morris being Morris, be paused for a brief moment, and said to himself more than anyone else, "you could say the same thing about Black Flag, too…"
The band then broke into their set. Composed of songs from across OFF!'s discography, the band ripped from tune to tune as if they had all been written in the same manic weekend. Noticeably though, the songs had evolved from their studio forms. Songs from The First Four EPs, which are more or less rooted in classic punk structure, were sharpened so that the verses, much like blues songs, albeit blues songs on amphetamine, song towards the choruses, picking up speed until Morris' ranting crashed into howls like "Darkness!"
More daringly, songs off the brand new Wasted Years were in an even more berserk from than their studio counterparts. Unlike early OFF! tunes like "Black Thoughts," the new songs have multiple parts which cascade into each other, creating tension and explosive contrast. Live, songs like "Void you out" were amped up so that the fractured sections became combustible responses to each other. In fact, during the newer songs, guitarist Dimitri Coats , bassist Stephen McDonald and drummer Mario Rubalcaba blasted down on their instruments with so much force, at times, the instrumentation melted together into a heavy, rapid mass of powerviolence proportions.
In these moments, OFF! demonstrated why they are champions of the form. Whereas so many bands would collapse into a massive of noise, OFF! showed off each of its unique attributes in the noise. Despite the violent smashing, Morris retained his iconic snarl, whipping between shouting and his nasal ranting. Few other vocalists are able to adhere and sharpen a stylistic delivery in such chaos, but Morris made it look natural- probably, because, for him, it is.
Meanwhile. As on the recordings, Coats and McDonald mirrored each other, congealing their hard, but snappy riffs into a single, muscular sound, supplemented by Rubalcaba's tribal stomping. It also seemed that the band understood the importance of the visual aspect of the show. Being that Morris is so short, and that Coats and McDonald are both tall, their mere stage set up creates a striking dynamic. But, as the band plays, it becomes a live game of frogger, with Morris darting to the left and right across the stage while Coats and McDonald run forward and back, the former striking tough-guy poses that wouldn't seem out of place at a Cro-Mags show and the later doing leaps… and yes, even duck lips… borrowed from bands like the Sweet and Kiss.
Really, the reason why OFF! is so fantastic comes down to two things. First, the songs are killer and are made to be played live. The band doesn't fumble around with unusual fingering or weird phrasing- organic, instinctual blasts carry the day and demonstrate that style beats technique every time. Second, and probably most importantly, is that OFF! has panache. So many bands do the high energy, angry thing, but few, if any, are doing with the zeal, zest, and style of OFF! This might sound like pissed off music, but really, it party music taken to the most berserk extreme.
Before OFF!, Cerebral Ballzy played a full set. Although the band was tied to some amorphous controversy about being "the real thing," a few years ago, it seems that they've preserved through the criticism and are all the better for it. The band was greeted enthusiastically by the Oakland crowd and played a set of mostly newer songs. While older Cerebral Ballzy tunes were basically modern amalgamations of early English and West Coast punk, he band has become more extreme, merging different styles from what is basically d-beat to the classic Chuck Berry-aping punk rock riffing. With a new album coming out soon, it seems that Cerebral Ballzy is about to release their most varied collection to date.
The show opened with Nasa Space Universe, probably the harshest group of the night. Seemingly bedfellows with modern harsh punk bands like Metz or Nails, the band blasted through a short set composed of harsh, cacophonic, deeply intense pieces. The fact is, they have the skills to make a racket and are forming a great balance between the technically and the loose. But, a little more variety in sound or song structure would really make these songs pop. Because the band is fairly young, that's no doubt right around the corner.
-Raymond Pettibon's art makes the best t-shirts. I mean, why shouldn't art be mobile?
-The show was basically a who's who of punk rock stars, with Dave Ed of Neurosis and Kicker showing off his brand new pink-hairdo, the famed Pete the Roadie running the stage set-up like a champion as always, and of course, Yours Truly coping a sweet, sweet copy of the First Four Years on cassette with two secret bonus tracks!
-I think maybe the reason OFF! is so great is because their hair is so cool. Coats has the classic Marc Bolan curly-fro, McDonald has the timeless Jeff Spicoli surfer hair, Rubalcaba has sort of a Slash thing going on, and Morris is the only white dude that looks cool with dreadlocks. Man, so cool… so cool…