Thursday, October 11, 2012

OFF!/Negative Approach/Double Negative
Tuesday, September 25th 2012
State Theatre, St. Petersburg, Florida

The tired impression that punk is nothing but nihilism gets a breath of life with a line-up of bands named like this.  It’s time for some mathcore: a Double Negative equals a (presumably) single positive, plus another Negative (Approach) brings us back to zero in which case the music stays Off!.  Goddamn Christ, imagine if Negative FX (hardcore band that NOFX took their name from) or any other number of miserable bastard-sounding bands had managed to show up, we’d be here all night.

And between a door time of 7pm and North Carolina’s Double Negative not coming on until 9:20, for a while it’s starting to look like we will be. Playing with Off! does not mean that you never come on stage.  Double Negative may not have been to blame of course, and they have the decency to be pretty good, if not exactly amazing.  Singer Scott Williams (aka, ‘Epic Warfare’) provides crisp vocals to music that while not mere noise, does reject the oxymoron of ‘melodic’ hardcore in favour of wandering experimentation that doesn’t find anywhere that interesting.  (Having now listened to their recordings a few times without feeling impatient or knackered, I have a better impression. Nice stuff.)

It is not so much a Negative Approach as a slow-and-steady approach for the Detroit band who perform next.  Not their music, which is a mixture of short fast hardcore and dirty rock n roll; this is their very first visit to St. Pete since they originally formed in 1981.  John Brannon live sounds a bit like Dennis Lyxzén (Refused/T(I)NC) screaming over metal-tinged rock with fat and beefy riffs.  Fittingly for a band with a great song like ‘Dead Stop,’ Negative Approach have the satisfying sudden ending down to a T.  When, on a couple of occasions, the band needs to fix something or get in tune, there is either pleasant banter or calm intermissions.  The guitarist might need to come back to St. Pete at a future date though if he saw the city the way he saw the crowd: his back was facing us the entire time.

Like in those intermissions, it is strangely quiet in the venue between the sets of Negative Approach and Off!.  I decided before this gig that the back-to-basics nature of Off!’s music meant I should also try to embrace simple fun by getting the crap kicked out of myself.  After an initially slow reaction from the crowd, a few songs in a circle pit in the shape of the bands opening letter viciously forms and puts to bed any thoughts I had about getting in there.  Keith Morris is manic and wide-eyed as usual, blasting through songs so short and intense that his extended stage rants are needed to make the set long enough.  Telling people to vote: not normally considered all that punk of an activity. But the way Morris stares at you when he says it (“they don’t WANT you to vote”), as if he’s stabbing daggers of self-evident truth into your brain, is very compelling.

Before ‘Borrow and Bomb’ he complains about the flaccid argument that the US is broke as well as its drone strikes, in a refreshingly straightforward (or simplistic) way that most of Off!’s 65-second songs mirror.  The song ‘Jeffrey Lee Pierce’ is a eulogy for the blues-punk pioneer, in which we are all invited to insert the name of somebody we have lost.  Some arsehole who has never lost anyone shouts “nobody cares.”  From the look on Morris’s face, it’s hard to tell if he is being truthful when he pauses then says that he can’t hear very well on stage.  Another cock decides that ‘Peace in Hermosa’ (“this one’s about peace”) is the perfect time to shoulder launch into unsuspecting people.  There is no time to worry about such shit though — Off! hammer through something close to their entire output of music before leaving without an encore.  Their set was a lot like their recordings both in sound and vibe, and for that we should be happy.