with Negative Approach and Double Negative
Freebird Live, Jacksonville, FL • September 23, 2012
Without getting too over-cerebral about the whole thing, lemme put it this way…. You’d have to drug me Mr-T-in-the-A-Team style to get me out to see some fogey-rock giants limp onto a stage and halfheartedly thrust their flaccid stuff for an audience that shuts its eyes real hard and listens even harder for echoes of a very distant majesty. That’s. Sad. However, a night like this, with reconstituted proto-hardcore heroes Negative Approach joining up with HC supercollective OFF! — I’ve got all the time in the world for something like this.
And it’s not a matter of simple nostalgia. I was too young for these bands the first time around. By the time I was of gig-going age, hardcore was largely the province of Long Island bands who were more in the habit of throwing up gang signs or suckerpunching people that had the temerity to disagree with them. No, this is something more.
Remember when I mentioned getting too cerebral before? See, it’s totally FASCINATING for me to see how underground musicians age and if their creativity/methods change with them. You can tell it’s a very thorny give-and-take, even from the stage. I love this; it reminds me of elements of jazz, watching a musician struggle with his back catalog (one written in the black-and-white flush of youth) and the feelings/memories it evokes, while simultaneously recasting those songs for his current position in life. Or, like Patrick Hughes said when talking about how hardcore means more now to him as a middle-aged man, “It’s really easy to bang on about nonconformity and being true to yourself as a teenager, but how about when you’re working a job and having to support yourself?”
Anyway, the night begins with young North Carolina HC upstarts Double Negative, who have to be on fucking Cloud 9 opening for these two bands. They hold up their end of the bargain ably with a loud, overloaded blast that recalls Discharge and Necros without seeming like a pastiche of either. Worth noting is that two of the guitarists have long hair. Once taboo, now it’s a whole different and better reality. Between being amped at the lineup and revitalized from a HECTIC house show in Gainesville the evening before, DN pulls out all the stops in spite of a troublingly dispirited crowd presence.
Then it gets a little crazy.
Four blue-collar looking tuffs, who have a median height of around 7-foot, stalk onstage and start turning volume knobs all the way up and shouting into their mics instead of doing a soundcheck. A dude in all black stomps on with Stephen King’s haircut and the most hateful, possessed thousand-yard stare I’ve ever seen, and stands stock still, just seething. Yep, it’s Negative Approach. What follows is a masterclass in musical self-abnegation. Though the members look nothing like the shaven-headed bullyboys raising Cain on the inner sleeve of various 7-inches, the music of Negative Approach has aged not a wit.
It’s just as of-the-moment as ever — though really, it will never become passé to scream demonically over a Bad Brains-meets-Damned stomp — but it’s downright prescient in light of recent metal-flecked mutations in hardcore and other extreme music. Like OFF! is about to do, Negative Approach adds a serrated metal underbelly to their speedfreak sprints. There’s more weight and heft and stomp to this music. The crowd immediately responds, multiplying out of nowhere, and at one point I see a friend of mine do a perfect bodyslide over a row of monitors, turn that into a somersault onto the ground, and then do the “I’m singing these words back at you while pointing vociferously” thing during a chorus. God, this music… hairs stood up on the back of my neck.
After a lengthy intermission (whose highlight was the subtle physical comedy of Keith Morris taping down a THREE-PAGE setlist on the ground — seriously, it was like a damn scroll), the band took their places, Morris provided low key introductions and KA-BLAM, it’s Motorhead-meets-Napalm-Death time! OFF! are heroes one and all, and instead of this band being some suspiciously Damn-Yankees-esque cash-in proposition, this is four guys who’ve made their bones in the underground music industry having a fuckload of fun playing loud, brutish, nasty music. And oh God, it works. Live, OFF! isn’t as filthy and grungy sonically. It’s a little more jet-propelled and speedfreak streamlined. And Morris’s onstage expositions were somewhat more restrained than the constant vitriol I happily witnessed in Gainesville last year. This time he gave a really stirring monologue about doomed Gun Club mainman Jeffrey Lee Pierce and his enduring musical influence and heroism (before charging into the song of the same), and an impassioned call to vote, which was somewhat deflated when some bro-punks took pains to inform him that no, they weren’t in fact, going to vote. Seriously, I saw his shoulders sag for just a second.
Then it was back to the races! Dmitri Coats is a blur of Ramones-esque sharp edges, Steven McDonald, even when playing in one of the downest and dirtiest HC bands going, still busts out his best Redd Kross posing and goofyfooting. The guy is bizarrely ageless. Mario Rubalcaba is a dynamo, and Morris is like a crust-punk Abbie Hoffman, and all that entails. This combination and resulting personal and musical relations has clearly rejuvenated them all creatively — their catalog of songs is an embarrassment of riches, and yeah, they run through ’em all in about thirty minutes (joking, kinda). And though I was a little worried that the new self-titled album wouldn’t hold up to the First Four EPs, it stands on its own. A good-sized crowd has materialized out of nowhere for OFF!’s set, though dudes are wasted and taking latent rage out on one another.
Things end on a downer note when a fight breaks out towards the end of the set, spilling outside the club, and half the band jump offstage to sort it out (Keith’s only request of the crowd was to please not fight, yay hometown.). The lights come on abruptly and a sound guy intones that the evening’s over. And yet, if you stand in one place long enough, you can still taste the electricity in the air.