If I have one major issue with modern punk music, it’s the inherent conservatism. For all the posturing and sloganeering, most modern punk is about as cutting edge and diverse as graffiti art. It tends to be posing for the sake of cool rather than for any real passionate cause. Fortunately, Off! is cut from a different cloth. Just take a look at that line up. There’s former members of Burning Brides in there. The drummer used to be in both Hot Snakes and Rocket From The Crypt, arguably the best and most under-appreciated American punk rock band of the last two decades. And the frontman is none other than Keith Morris, formerly of the legendary Black Flag and Circle Jerks. Maybe we should be kneeling before these guys rather than standing as they come on stage. This is musical royalty we’re talking about.
Fortunately, Off! did not turn up at the Whisky A Go Go on Tuesday for a nostalgia fest. Like Wild Flag last year, they have something tangible to promote in the shape of an explosive (and very short) new album, for which this show was doubling as a release party. Living on past glories doesn’t seem to be an option for these guys, and from the moment Keith Morris wrapped up an opening raconteur act by ripping into the first of nearly two dozen songs in under forty minutes, it was obvious that Off! was not lacking in energy or focus.
The set was as sweaty, crusty, and ferocious as you would expect from a group grounded in the early eighties hardcore of the aforementioned Black Flag and X, some of the most influential music ever to come out of the City of Angels. If there is a criticism to level at the band, it’s that they never really stray from the blueprint established by those acts thirty years ago. The songs are angry, focused, and stripped down to the point where 90 seconds means outstaying your welcome. Still, it’s hard to criticize too much when the band is this tight and the crowd members are so busy throwing themselves round in a brutal circle pit.
Morris was fairly adamant about having the show at this particular venue, harking back to its legendary past and lamenting the lack of great shows hosted at the Whisky A Go Go in recent times. It is a shame, as the venue had an atmosphere as good as you are likely to encounter at any LA gig this year. It may have felt like a show from a bygone era, but it had the vitality and energy of the now. Whether the Whisky A Go Go will host more gigs of this stature remains to be seen, but here’s hoping.
For more information about Off! and their new album, visit their website.