Better Than: Dead Kennedys without Jello, The Misfits without Danzig, and the last 25 years of Bad Brains.
Last night, Downtown Miami dance hall Grand Central hosted yet another righteous punk show. In fact, this might've been the best rock concert that we've ever seen at the club.
When we first saw the flyer, our reaction was, "Oh, shit! Negative Approach!" followed by "Oh, shit! Double Negative!"
How did these new-school dudes land a coveted spot opening for legends of the game? Maybe NA vocalist John Brannon was, like, trolling his newsfeed, bored as shit in the green room at All Tomorrow's Parties or something. When, suddenly, somebody posts some jams from the Hardcore Confusion series to his Wall with the caption, "u guys shud tour with this band lol."
So he checks out the tunes and he's like, "omg we shud tour with this band." Because, you see, their names are similar. Also, we imagine Brannon recognized more than a little of his own band's sound in that of DN, and appreciated the young outfit's contemporary take on dark, noisy American hardcore.
Unfortunately, a big part of Double Negative's signature charm (the warm-hued, sneakily melodic, almost-shoegaze-y guitar buzzblur) was almost entirely diluted by the more than half-empty Grand Central. Put these guys on a smaller stage in a room with a lower ceiling, and a crowd that's had more time to warm up, and we predict nothing short of absolute fucking chaos.
Negative Approach, on the other hand, is a band whose music indulges significantly less ambiguity and nuance. They looked like Hells Angels at a ZZ Top concert crossed with Kafka's Dad after a long day at the office spent smoking a carton of cigarettes rolled with newspaper and filled with sewage. And they sounded like it too.
Neil Young might spend 20 minutes on one guitar solo, but that's like 40 whole songs for Negative Approach. As far as we could tell, they may have played their entire classic discography, including the biggest pit-starter of the night, "Ready to Fight," and about two dozen other neanderthal pig man jams that recalled "Ready To Fight."
While their music can sometimes epitomize the mosh-obsessed chug-a-lug of late '80s hardcore (which they preceded, BTW, by almost a decade), Negative Approach has experienced a recent revival, partly tied to a broader, scene-wide darkening of contemporary HC's aesthetic.
The early 2000s were ruled with an iron fist by bathing-in-beer-foam Animal House-style wacky thrashers like Richmond, Virginia's Municipal Waste. But the contemporary punk rocker has little use for dayglo flipped-bill caps and boogie boards in the pit.
Instead, the past few years have seen a reactionary embrace of anger and compositional experimentation, recalling headshop hardcore like Void, Drunks With Guns, and No Trend. NA and Brannon are a little more sonically conservative. But they compensate for lack of innovation (relative to the aforementioend groups) with intensity.
Despite a lot of slam-dancing-counts-as-participation jargon, hardcore punk can rival hair-metal in its embrace of the sentimental epic hero known as the frontman. Is an arena filled with tarted-up females screaming for the lead singer's bandana all that different from the guys who camp out at the foot of the stage so they can accentuate every syllable of every lyric with wagging fingers? We're too busy watching John Brannon shove Axl Rose up Henry Rollins's ass to give a shit.
Most extreme vocalists can't help but fall into one tough-guy routine or another. But last night, JB stood eerily still while his face turned hatefully purple as he projectile vomited his infamous scab-ridden, metallic shriek that seemingly only swells with age. In fact, everyone we spoke with agreed enthusiastically that Negative Approach's already unfuckwithable classics benefitted greatly from Brannon's black metal-style screeching.
Keith Morris was never our favorite Black Flag singer. (That distinction belongs to Henry Rollins, specifically the era when he would ride in the gear trailer tripping on acid.) And unless you're CSN with Y, we don't give half of a flying fuck about supergroups. But despite our anti-hype Haterade, Off! very rapidly won us over with an expert recipe for short, bludgeoning, funhouse hardcore.
If you added a minute or two, some cuts may have reeked of '90s-era, Epitaph-style skatepunk. But this crew greatly adheres to the notion that "more is less." Speed and song length -- fast 'n' short as fuck, respectively -- are OFF!'s most effective weapons.
Off!'s least effective weapon is Keith Morris going ham on the fucking microphone every three or four songs (which translates to about every two minutes).
When we interviewed the former Circle Jerks ringleader, he described his current project as a "dark party" band. But Morris must hang out at some pretty confusing soirees. Because between the stagediving, high-fiving, crowdsurfing, beer-swilling, mosh-catching and blow-by-blow fingerpointing, the singer thought it might be a good time to tell the blacked-out Anarchists in the crowd that they should vote or to ramble vaguely about newspaper headlines. Regardless, his frequent, comically freeform grandpa ranting opened a perfect channel for some well-deserved heckling.
But don't be mistaken. Once the music kicked back in, even the haters were, to borrow one of Morris' favorite metaphors, bouncing the keg off the diving board and into the swimming pool.
The Crowd: Young'n'tidy hardcore boys, grizzled vets with obsolete straight-edge tattoos, bros in minty fresh flat-billed Off! baseball caps, devotedly bored girlfriends Googling Keith Morris on their space phones.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Puking is for pussies. Shit, I usually pass out in the yard before I get to puking."
Pit Patrol: In our preview of last night's show, Morris went on and on about honeys in sundresses shakin' they bacon to, uh, Off!. But now, having seen the band's audience live, we can tell you that Keith Morris either subscribes to the power of positive thinking or needs new bi-focals. 'Cause everywhere we looked, bros were getting caught in moshes and jabronis were trying to stagedive and/or crowdsurf with entirely too few people beneath them.
From the Stage: "I mean, at the time, we had no idea we were going to invent things like The Warped Tour." - Keith "Modest" Morris
Keith Morris Pronounces Tour Like This: Toor
Personal Bias: We've crunched the numbers and it would defy the laws of physics for us to have had expectations that were any lower. Which, ironically, is a major endorsement of how much fun this show was.
Random Detail: Every single employee of Grand Central looked like they were being forced to shave with feces. When we asked the sound guy to pass us the setlist after Off!, he grimly shook his head "No," very slowly in complete silence.
-"I Don't Belong"
-"I Got News For You"
-"Now I'm Pissed"
-"Jeffrey Lee Pierce"
-"Feelings Are Meant to Be Hurt"
-"King Kong Brigade"
-"Borrow and Bomb"
-"Zero for Conduct"
-"Peace in Hermosa"
-"Full of Shit"
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