By Russell Warfield
June 12, 2012
It shouldn’t be anywhere near as surprising as it is to see Keith Morris looking as old as he does tonight. It’s impossible to forget, of course, that he was one of the founding fathers of DIY punk through his participation in the seminal second wave movement – but his appearance is still startlingly incongruous when juxtaposed with his ever-youthful present day output. The lines of his face thrown into sharp relief and deep shadow by the sweaty stage lights, nothing about him looks like he hasn’t been on the punk circuit for the best part of forty years now. How he sounds, however – along with the rest of OFF! – is as young, angry and hungry as Black Flag or Circle Jerks ever were, providing more of the same with no diminishing returns whatsoever: thirty to sixty second blasts of undiluted hardcore punkrock. Make no mistake, this is no retirement vanity project. OFF! mean all of this just as sincerely as they ever did.
A little maths: two records of sixteen tracks each, all of which about an average of sixty seconds in length. It means that even your entire discography doesn’t fill much more than half an hour. (Although, as I’m amused to notice, it does mean that your setlist ends up filling nearly the entire side of your guitar stack). And indeed, tonight’s set is necessarily a short one: kicking into life with an explosion of bodies, crowd surfers and flying beer, Morris and his band positively razing through their material with all the razor-sharp tightness of their studio counterparts all within little more than half an hour. Each song rattles by in what feels like a flash – early highlights coming in the form of the delightfully petulant ‘I’ve Got News For You’, before – fuck! – culminating in ‘Black Thoughts’ as part of their mercilessly violent encore. It’s a short, swift exercise in abrasion – but feels substantial thanks to the amount of brazen intensity successfully delivered throughout their reasonably short stage time.
And just as the music itself perfectly recalls second wave punk rock, so does tonight’s live atmosphere. With all the impassioned movement at the front of the stage (containing plenty of skinheads and denim jackets), the sense of community amid the ostensible violence is still strongly retained. It’s refreshing and eternally heartening to discover that, if you slip, you’re quite literally picked back up before you have the chance to hit the floor. And without wishing to get too romantic about it all, this to me is what punk is truly about at heart: an expression of anger against concentrated targets (see Morris’ weary contempt for Obama in ‘Borrow and Bomb’); and not a nihilistic expression of physical violence against each other. Quite the opposite in fact: punk offers the space to create positive connections born of shared disillusionment and discontent. As such, the bodies stack high and the riffs hit hard – but OFF! aren’t just acting as a nostalgic throwback to punk’s DIY roots, but instead successfully continue in its valuable traditions as a shared experience of agency between artist and audience.