Keith Morris stopped the band from playing. As The Echo went from bedlam to a virtual hush, Morris pointed to the right of the stage and asked, “What was that I heard? I heard someone say, ‘Over the hill’”. He deferred to guitarist and ex Burning Brides front man, Dimitri Coats who exclaimed, “Over the hill like you assholes from the Valley”.
What separates veterans punkers like OFF! from everyone else is not only a vast ocean of experience and a belt that has more notches than holes but it’s also an intuitive set of reflexes that cannot be taught. Whether you are a punk, a composer, a visual artist or a chef, you are either born with “it” or you aren’t. At 60 years old, Keith Morris still commands the stage like a grizzled sea captain. He navigates the hurled projectiles and ambitious stage divers like a treacherous ocean whose waters he has crossed on many a voyage.
I didn’t know quite what to expect as I entered The Echo early in the evening. I’ve never seen a real circle pit at The Echo. I’ve seen “mosh pits” made up of all ages crowds that were more affectionate than violent but I’ve never seen the aggression there that usually follows hardcore punk shows around. The night promised to be exceptional because not only was OFF! playing but as usual, the headliners’ keen eye for young talent has produced two opening acts, Gay Kiss and Nasa Space Universe that are not to be missed.
The skin heads are more undercover than they used to be but they still follow Morris around like some deranged Band Aids, much to his chagrin, I’m sure. I can spot them from a mile away. It’s a look in the eyes when they come up to L.A. for punk shows. It’s the look of a man that is watching his back for crimes perpetrated in his past and memories of all the times he got his ass kicked by UNITY skins or Suicidals. I can also spot the junkies from a mile away, as well. They are always wearing jackets or long sleeves in a 100 degree sweatbox. The table was set and the usual players were present as well as a younger generation that is ready to receive the torch.
The night opened with Gay Kiss. They are sporting one of the most brutal sounds and set of songs I’ve heard from a newer band in awhile. The way they switch from a blistering pace to a head bobbing half time is inspirational. Lead Singer, Roger Calamaio’s primal vocals and stage presence is like an agitated and hungry velociraptor. He seemed confused while looking at the motionless crowd, as if trying to crack the code of what would get this crowd moving. As abrasive and perfect as he was during a performance of a song, he was equally as meek and shy during the silence between them. I’m pretty sure if he had challenged the audience a bit to be more Alpha, he would’ve received the effect he desired. Still, I found it incredible when he would be face to face, screaming in the face of a patron who looked like they were at chamber orchestra recital with hardly a head bob.
Kevin Rhea, vocalist of Nasa Space Universe did not have that problem. After playing one song he made a simple suggestion. “How about you guys start dancing?” Once the audience was given permission, they didn’t stop the rest of the night. Sometimes, engaging a crowd is just as easy as that. Rhea knows what the fuck he is doing. He spends very little time on the stage and spends most of the set on the floor, either singing on the outskirts of the pit or laying the mic down and actually getting into it. Nasa Space Universe is one of Janky Smooth’s favorite young punk bands. Their music is dynamic and raw and their live show is not to be missed.
NSU was the perfect warm up act for OFF! Once Morris and company took the stage, The Echo exploded into a melee of arms and elbows. Stage divers frequently jumped into the pool of sweaty bodies and dancers collided into each other like a punk rock particle accelerator. A fan found a trash can and raised it over his head like the Stanley Cup, running it around the pit until another player took his turn with the filthy trophy until eventually, it was hurled on stage and hurled back by Keith Morris, right into the middle of the pit. Morris made mention of the fact that they released a new album in April called, Wasted Years and that was the reason for this show and mini tour. I had yet to hear these tracks live and there were a number of standouts such as, Hypnotized, Meet Your God and Legion of Evil. Coats, McDonald and Rubalcaba were animated, tight and punk as fuck.
OFF! is one of the most exciting new bands in punk rock but that isn’t a knock on the young scene that features bands like openers, Gay Kiss and NSU. Punk rock has been swimming around the mainstream for the past 15 years, which has created a uniform of sleeve tattoos and patch packed jean jackets that have diluted the individuality that created the genre in the first place. These young bands that take their queue from bands like Morris’ Black Flag and Circle Jerks are throwing it back to the days before ads on Craigslist of bands looking for a lead singer infl: Sex Pistols, Stooges, Green Day. They are just normal looking kids without an outfit or any particular or distinguishable aesthetic. Their music is angry and their motives seem pure and after all these years, Keith Morris is still relatable and influential on these types of kids as well as the most discerning and jaded old punkers.
Words: Danny Baraz
Photos: Taylor Wong