Spirit of '81
Opportunity knocks for hardcore punk's well-vetted throwbacks
Published: September 26, 2012
In Circle Jerks' "Live Fast Die Young" off 1980's Group Sex, Keith Morris howls, "I don't wanna live to be 34 / I don't wanna die in a nuclear war!" One of the most agitated, energetic vocalists in the punk canon singing on an influential band's influential record makes "Live Fast" noteworthy enough, but consider its lyrics, too. Aside from shouting the track title as if it's his only calm in a mad world, Morris uses the song to decide what age is a good stopping point. If he isn't dead at 34, other verses give him until 43 or 57.
As of Sept. 18, Morris has reached that final figure. Of course, the desire to expire early in "Live Fast" was hyperbole, but how does the 57-year-old feel now after what he said then? "Well, when you're running fast and having a good time, and then you turn around and things are kind of ugly, it's easy to get depressed," Morris says earnestly. "I have a new lease on life because I've had the opportunity to face death three or four times since then. With almost dying from the diabetes, I basically said, 'You know what? I've got stuff that I've gotta do. I'm not ready to leave yet.'"
In music terms, Morris' primary "stuff" is songs and shows by Off, his three-year-old, California-rooted group who apparently come from a parallel Earth on which Dec. 31 never came for 1981 – a seminal year for Los Angeles hardcore acts Black Flag (of which Morris was the first vocalist), Fear, the Germs and Circle Jerks. Morris' partners in Off are Burning Brides' Dimitri Coats, Redd Kross' Steven McDonald and Rocket From the Crypt's Mario Rubalcaba. The four-piece's two-minutes-and-under attacks are delivered with enough hostility and cathartic anger to trick you into thinking this is some upstart revival band or a lost '80s outfit. Off!, their recent full-length, feeds off classic hardcore without implementing anything fresh or impressive (urgency beats inspiration), but their performances are a different story.
At a recent show in Albuquerque, N.M., Morris sent himself into fits and gestured maniacally as the instrumental trio performed their executions wordlessly. Between numbers, he hilariously mocked Riverside, Calif., attempted to inform the crowd of Truth or Consequences, N.M. (everyone already knew), spoke with genuine warmth about late Gun Club leader Jeffrey Lee Pierce before going into a song named after him, and ranted extensively about politics and voting before jumping into "Borrow and Bomb." Although wild and unfuckwitable during songs, Morris has a grandfatherly quality, too, responding to hecklers with patience and thoughtfulness. In Off, well-honed nostalgia, seniority and raw youthfulness all function in tandem.
Morris repeatedly uses the word "opportunity" to discuss what his band has been given and must use to its fullest extent. "We have a zillion bands out there, and how many of them are even worth listening to?" he asks before mentioning the variety of festivals they've hit. "We've had the opportunity to play with a lot of different bands, and because of that, it seems to be a giant party, and we happen to bring our own flavor to add to the punch. We bring our own party hats. We bring our own horns. We bring our own color."
OFF! with Negative Approach, Double Negative
7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27
54 N. Orange Ave.
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