On Wednesday night Vans hosted a showcase at Emo’s that featured appearances by hardcore legends like Keith Morris’ Off and Bad Brains, as well as more contemporary groups fueled by that same energy like Trash Talk and Black Lips.
The Stripminers were on stage when I arrived and initially I wasn’t too impressed. The group seemed to be exploring more of an indie rock territory than the rock n' roll tracks I’d checked out online a few days earlier. As the set progressed, the songs picked up tempo and gave off the rock n' roll feel I expected—which seemed to better suit the female lead singer’s voice.
Trash Talk took the stage next. This group had the energy of an ‘80s hardcore band and an aggressive lead singer who was not afraid to dodge into the crowd. He literally spent more time on the floor than he did on the stage—often diving head first into the audience. The music style was heavier than your average Bay Area punk band (where the band hails from) and seemed to have somewhat of a grindcore influence with super short songs that at times reminded me of Cattle Decapitation. Although the rest of the band remained on stage they did so with the same energy that was found in early hardcore bands. The guitarist and bass player jumped around like crazy men—literally blasting up to three feet in the air at some points. The shirtless drummer looked like a savage, pounding away behind his kit. The set was incredibly short. I wasn’t counting, but it felt no longer than approximately 20 minutes—the perfect amount of time for the raw, adrenaline-fueled performance that the group delivered.
Keith Morris’ newest project OFF! was up next.
OFF! = Circle Jerks and Black Flag circa Keith Morris + slower songs + more jokes and story telling in between songs (presumably so Keith can catch his breath and deliver each tune with as much energy as possible.) – some more dreadlocks.
There in an undeniable similarity between OFF! and Morris’ previous projects, Circle Jerks and Black Flag, but this might just be because Morris’ voice contributed so heavily to the sound of the aforementioned bands. The banter between songs was more frequent but focused heavily on Morris’ early days in the southern California hardcore scene, his old friends and the bands of another era. The stories he told were interesting and for the most part kept the crowd cheering. At one point someone in the crowd told Morris to shut up. Morris quickly belittled the guy. In addition to the reminiscing, Morris told jokes, thanked Vans for putting together the epic showcase and scoffed as he retold the story of someone claiming he was a sell out since he was sponsored by Vans.
[Side note: Keith Morris seemed to have thicker and longer dreads than anyone in Bad Brains. I’m guessing when one falls off he might just tie it into one of the ones that is still going strong. Fucking epic.]
It was hard to know what to expect from Bad Brains. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be seeing the legendary group, but I knew I probably wasn’t in for the early ‘80s hardcore Bad Brains—which is totally understandable. It would be unrealistic to expect that show from a group who, after transforming into a Praise Jah reggae/dub group, eventually called it quits. Quite frankly, I was thrilled to even get to see the band at all. It quickly became clear that the band would shine the brightest during their reggae and dub songs. They did play some of the old hardcore—“Attitude” made an appearance early on in the set list—but it looked like they were going through the motions. HR was barley moving and none of the band looked excited to be on stage. They wrote those songs nearly 30 years ago, during a much different time when they were much different people. To the jackass in the crowd yelling at HR to do a back flip on stage—sorry you missed the early ‘80s hardcore scene. Get over it.
Although the hardcore songs were lackluster, the reggae and dub songs were great live. You could tell that this is where the band is most comfortable—the band looked much happier to be on stage.
After a fairly spirited rendition of “Sailin' On” HR brought his hands together under his chin in a position of prayer and slightly bowed to the rowdy crowd. Despite the more mellow tone of the set, the crowd was right in line with what might have been seen at a hardcore show in DC in the early ‘80s.
This show was nothing short of epic. Mostly pulling songs from their highly anticipated album Arabia Mountain (due out June 7 on Vice Records), Black Lips had an insane energy on stage that whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Although it would have been nice to be able to sing along to more of the set list, I enjoyed the new songs and can’t wait until I’m able to learn all the lyrics and scream along when they play Salt Lake City in June. Only a few older songs made their way into the set list—“Bad Kids,” “O’Katrina,” “Short Fuse” and “Cold Hands” were the only songs I recognized. Surprisingly the group didn’t play “Go Out and Get It,” for which they just released a music video. Numerous times the band claimed that they would be playing their last song before diving into more material. It seemed like it would never end, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Throughout the performance beers were thrown at the crowd, beer was spit, a few brief moments of boy-on-boy tongue action took place and at one point it looked like Cole might have been puking on stage. The crowd erupted into one sweaty dance party.
Talib Kweli closed the showcase, but I didn’t stay. I was pretty sure whatever he had to offer couldn’t top what Black Lips had just done.