In 2010, when footage of OFF! first started showing up online, fans of old California hardcore music lost their minds. Was it really possible that Keith Morris was fronting a punk rock super-group that could cram 16 songs into less than 20 minutes? It was possible, and it was actually happening. This was welcome news to fans of hardcore young and old—mostly because it meant that Morris had a reason to tour again, and once he hit the road, there was a solid chance that he’d play your town.
Now, four years later, OFF! is touring on their third full-length record. Wasted Years was released earlier this month through Vice Records. The reaction of fans has been positive, but the larger music community has openly wondered whether or not we need to revisit familiar themes of Reagan-era politics and self-destruction, even if it’s done with the accuracy of a surgeon and the weight of a boulder. All doubts aside, when Keith Morris comes to your town, and when his band is fleshed out with Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides) on guitar, Mario Rubalcaba (RFTC, Hot Snakes) on drums and Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) on bass, there really is no question—you get off the couch and you go.
OFF! played Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 16. They were touring with NASA Space Universe, and the local band Thunderfist opened for them. The show took place on the all-ages side of the Lo-Fi Cafe, a venue they’re calling the Loading Dock. This was my first time catching a show at the Loading Dock, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I wasn’t expecting it to be an actual loading dock, though. It is, but to the venue’s credit, the dock space has been retrofitted with lights and sound to be more welcoming to touring bans and all-ages audiences.
Thunderfist was the first band to go on. This local troupe of six men struggled a bit to fit on the small stage, opting to have their lead singer take his place among the crowd. They proceeded to belt out almost an hour’s worth of solid, guitar-heavy tracks about the nature of rock n’ roll, the supremacy of wizards and the overall temperature of Eskimo pussy (spoiler: It’s cold). They even snuck in a Dwarves cover and finished their high-energy set with a song that was equal parts Thin Lizzy and AC/DC. They did exactly what a local opener should do—they got the crowd excited and they had fun.
Next up was touring act NASA Space Universe. These four guys appeared to take a page from the 1990s powerviolence songbook, bleeding songs seamlessly together and challenging the crowd to keep up. They were considerably harder-sounding than anyone expected, and it took a few minutes for the crowd to catch on. Not long into the set, the younger folks in the audience started to slam dance and the older folks started to take their places on the outside of the pit. The band was aggressive, raw and fast, and they helped the crowd transition from the fun-natured music of Thunderfist to the more hardcore sound of OFF!
OFF! took the stage at around 9:30 and proceeded to lay waste to the intimate venue. As the band tuned up, Morris took a few moments to talk about the band’s punk ancestry. He talked about bands that various members founded and mentioned a meeting with Joe Strummer. The crowd got thicker and the energy became palpable. They started fast and plowed through several quick songs including the new tune, “Void You Out,” and the now-classic “Poison City” before quoting some lines from the film Taxi Driver and stopping for a moment to catch their collective breath.
Next was a Keith Morris story about watching people drag their asses from place to place without ever really seeing the world around them. This was the perfect set up for the song “Crawl,” which bled into “Over Our Heads” and eventually into a blazing rendition of “Jeffery Lee Pierce.” The set continued with other 90-second rock treatises like “Red, White and Black,” “Hypnotized” and “Rat Trap” before bringing things to a close with their standby song, “Darkness.” Cheers from the crowd brought the guys back out for a three-minute encore made up of fan favorites “Panic Attack” and “Upside Down.” The band, having dominated the stage for over an hour, thanked the crowd and took their bow.
This was a great show to witness, and it perfectly illustrated why we need bands like OFF! The truth is, anyone can play hardcore. Anyone can take muscled guitar riffs and pepper them with tidbits of psychedelia—it’s a winning formula that kids will always lose their minds over. But not everyone should play hardcore, and most people lack the life experience to pull it off convincingly. That’s why we need Keith Morris. He is the original voice of the entire genre, and as long as he’s still angry, we still have cause to be entertained.