Concert Review: Negative Approach and Off! Screamed, Sermonized at Grand Central Last Night

Keith Morris, mid-speech

Last night, a few noteworthy shows rolled through South Florida, with Florence and the Machine playing to fashionistas in Broward, and M83 hypnotizing hipsters at the Fillmore Miami Beach. This made for a nice sifting effect on the crowd at Grand Central, where hardcore/punk “supergroup” Off! was headlining.

The quartet, led by Keith Morris of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, has, thanks to great PR positioning, won adoration and appearances on trendy music blogs and festivals. The trendy, casual fans were probably off at the Fillmore last night, though, leaving Grand Central with an amazing kaleidoscope of punk rock lifers young and old. Truly, the human zoo was amazing here, with ages represented spanning from 18 or so, to “old enough to remember the Circle Jerks.” There were the facially tattooed and the khaki-wearing. Okay, so nobody held hands and sang kumbaya, but the crowd represented a study in about four generations of fans.

And, despite the fact that it was a week night, hundreds of these folks eventually turned out to represent at an event that proved to be a slow burner. This means, yes, that people trickled in on Miami time, which left openers Double Negative, a foursome from North Carolina, with the unenviable task of trying to warm up a then-half-filled room. Their rock and roll-inflected brand of screamed party punk largely met folded arms and the occasional appreciative nod at first. However, the group succeeded at its warm-up duties. Through, perhaps, its sheer force of volume — or maybe the increased flow of discounted Miller 64 diet beer at the bar — people finally got loose towards the end of the 20-minute set.

Negative Approach, up next, proved the not-so-surprise highlight of the evening. A lot of that is, granted, to the rarity of the pioneering hardcore punk band’s performances. This is a group of serious old-timers — they’ve toured occasionally since 2010, but don’t seem too concerned with releasing new music, selling stuff, or even getting together a proper web site. It’s oh so very punk, as was the group’s breakneck set, which packed in about 18 or 19 songs in about 28 minutes.

Despite his age, frontman John Brannon still comes off as angry and loud as ever, screeching through songs that frequently lasted under a minute and ended in sudden crashes. The chant-along gang vocals and loose, fast guitar work proved enough to finally light up the audience. A wide circle of ’60s to ’90s babies pushed against each other and caromed off the edge of the stage, as though testing the possibilities of their health insurance policies.

Undoubtedly the best cranky curmudgeon moment during Negative Approach’s set came when an overeager fan tried to rip off a set list taped to the edge of the stage for a souvenir. Bassist Ron Sakowski, in full wizardly beard, charged over. “I’m not done with that yet! Give it back!” he demanded. He was serious. “I can’t remember what I’m supposed to play yet,” he said as the chastened fan handed the paper back. “We’re all old men here.”

Keith Morris led a much more light-hearted session during his headlining set with Off! A 57-year-old with a dreadlocks ponytail has got to have a sense of humor about himself, right? Similarly to their tour mates, the group charged through songs averaging about a minute long each, largely from its recent full-length, self-titled album.

Unlike Negative Approach, though, they still only got through about a dozen songs over the course of a little over a half-hour thanks to Morris’ speech-making. While this threw a few heckling fans for a loop, it actually proved satisfying. Going to proto-hardcore and political punk shows is, basically, an exercise in sitting through speeches, and Morris’ brand of them is famous. At one point, he rambled as he reminisced about the legacy of the Gun Club, a band that, by a quick scan of faces, twentysomethings in Miami weren’t about to get misty-eyed over.

At another point, Morris demanded, “Who’s old enough to vote?” Though the answer was, pretty much everyone in the crowd, the audience only tepidly responded with half-raised hands. “That’s exactly what they want from you!” Morris yelled back, before running through a discourse on the various candidates. Was he urging us to vote for Obama or a third party-candidate? That remained unclear, but soon, he was on to analyzing the deficit. “We owe money to the Chinese!” He yelled a few minutes later, then riffing on the United States’ bombing of the Middle East.

Just a couple songs later, he turned to self-reflection, running through the pedigrees of each Off! member, before interrupting himself. “We’re just giving you a bit of our history!” He barked at the audience. “Don’t be so impatient!”

Luckily, between the tirades there were enough songs to invite singalongs, crowd-surfing by a few people a little too old to safely participate, and triumphant fist-pumping. And then, at precisely 11:55 p.m., it was over, with Morris practically dropping the mic and walking away. No goodbyes, no concluding statement, no reaction to claps and yells for encores, nothing. It’s 2012, and Keith Morris still doesn’t have to play by anyone else’s rules, dammit. With most supergroups and reunion acts settling for a dog-and-pony show, it’s nice to see at least one scene icon still doing whatever the hell he wants.

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