OFF!, Negative Approach, Power Trip Warehouse Live September 20, 2012
Thursday night, East Downtown was hoppin.' The streets were filled with orange-clad soccer fans ready to watch the Dynamo whip up on El Salvador's C.D. FAS, and the bars on St. Emmanuel St. were doing brisk business.
The energy on the streets outside crackled into Warehouse Live, where hardcore lifers prepared to pound the workday blues out of a fierce crowd of some of Houston's gnarliest punks.
For once, it was difficult finding free parking for a weeknight show at Warehouse. By the time I made it in the door, Dallas' Power Trip was already in full swing. Having seen them before, I wasn't surprised to see most of the audience crowding the rear of the venue.
The area near the stage had been thoroughly taken over by the thrashy crossover band's contingent of wild, floor-punching fans, and the rest of the crowd did their best to give them a wide berth.
In the circle pit during the band's set-closer, "Vultures," I saw a girl up front take a fist to the temple from some fat chump "dancing" awfully carelessly. The blow would have probably given me a traumatic brain injury, but she barely seemed to notice. Now that's hard core.
Frenzied though the pit may have been for Power Trip, it was only a warm-up for the chaos that greeted Detroit's hardcore godfathers, Negative Approach. I don't have a clue when the last time NA rumbled through Houston was, but to slam-dancers young and old on Thursday, it had clearly been too long.
As soon as front man John Brannon grabbed the mike and began spitting bile, he was rushed by fans eager to scream along. Suddenly, Warehouse Live appeared to be transported back to 1982 as dirty white boys skanked hard and stage divers turned cartwheels on to people's heads. It was a total madhouse, spurred on by NA's hard and nasty tunes.
Onstage, there were no smiles. "Negative Approach" defines the band's ethos pretty accurately, and Brannon grimaced his way through song after short, blistering song. His disposition was not improved by the stage invaders, who managed to unplug practically every monitor onstage. Guitarist Harold Richardson played most of the show with his ear glued to his amp, apparently straining to hear his own riffs.
The sound issues stood no chance of slowing the band down. Sweaty punks slung arms around one another's necks as they stomped around the dance floor, reveling in the undiluted fury of hardcore's menacing first wave. Supergroup or no, Negative Approach could have headlined this gig without a solitary soul batting a (blackened) eye.
Headliners OFF! had their work cut out for them following NA, but luckily the group had a ringer on the team. Ex-Black Flag and Circle Jerks front man Keith Morris is a stone-cold natural onstage, even as he creeps toward 60. In truth, Morris is merely the lead ringer in a band full of them. Energy exploded out of guitarist Dimitri Coats as he riffed out that Ginn-esque guitar tone that pairs so well with Morris' screech.
For OFF!, performing is a decidedly more joyful experience than it is for Negative Approach. Bassist Steven Shane McDonald banged his head ecstatically with a huge grin plastered on his face as the band tore into multiple suites of short, frenetic hardcore tunes.
Things did turn serious for a minute, however, as Morris introduced the song "Jeffrey Lee Pierce," a eulogy for his close friend and the guitarist for '80s punks the Gun Club. It's not often that a hardcore show turns poignant, but on Thursday night it happened, if only briefly.
In between blasts of incredible rock and roll volume, Morris shared tales of The Church, the illicit practice space/commune shared by Black Flag and other musicians and scenesters at the tail end of the '70s. He even made a point to remind all in attendance to rock the vote come November.
"If you're old enough to vote and you don't vote, then you don't get to complain about all of the bad things happening," he said.
A few of the more apolitical meatheads in the audience grumbled at the sermon, but Morris shrugged them off easily.
"I'm gonna talk because I've earned the right to talk," he said. That drew a big cheer.
And loud and aggressive though they may be, OFF!'s show is a cheerful affair. In a scene often noted for its short-lived successes, the band is a pleasant reminder that not all hardcore icons need burn out or fade away. Even when surrounded by punks young and old looking to burn off the frustrations of another workweek, there was still more energy crackling onstage than, er, off.
Personal Bias: Registered voter.
The Crowd: Young, flip-brimmed scenesters and graying survivors.
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Overheard In the Crowd: "They played the first song and I took a full beer to the back, man."
Random Notebook Dump: The Dynamo stadium brings a lot of folks looking for good times to East Downtown on game nights. As I was leaving the club, a car loaded with girls who clearly had no idea who OFF! or Negative Approach were rolled down their windows to ask me who was playing. It definitely wasn't my looks that intrigued them.