It’s been a month for checking out bands who’ve been around for a while. Last week I saw The Beat do their 30 year anniversary thing and now Bad Brains are in London with the original line up after first getting together in 1977. Still, regardless of age I check people out if I consider them to be good and these four defined a DC Hardcore sound that has resonated with fans and other artists (from Henry Rollins to Lil Jon to the Beastie Boys) since their inception.
Lead vocalist H.R. (Human Rights) strolls onto the stage wearing a red, gold and green shirt and beige jacket. He’s the epitome of Rasta cool as he acknowledges the cheers and introduces the band straight away. There’s Earl Hudson on drums, guitar hero Dr. Know and bass machine Darryl Jenifer. Throughout the show he keeps up an amiable banter between songs but it’s sometimes hard to catch what he’s saying with his gentle voice.
Maybe it’s because he’s now in his fifties but H.R.’s voice has completely changed from the howl and scream he employed during the Bad Brains heyday. Back then he had an incredible vocal range going from operatic to screeching madman in the space of a few bars. 🙂 Nowadays, the voice he uses to sing their slower reggae numbers is the same voice he uses to sing a classic like “Banned in D.C.”, a reference to when they were literally banned from playing every music venue in their hometown because of their energetic shows and fans. This new vocal approach doesn’t detract from the original songs but instead puts a new spin on them, making them sound fresh again. Not bad when you consider their first proper album came out in 1982.
It’s a LOUD show, to the point where the bass is distorted and giving the sound guy problems and this doesn’t help H.R.’s more mellower approach to the vocals which are partially drowned out by the wall of noise. Dr. Know’s speed riffing was always a huge part of the Bad Brains sound and he’s as fast as ever. It’s easy to see why they were so influential in the development of Hardcore, they always had that perfect balance of being good musicians and having decent songs. It’s pretty relentless stuff, so the slower reggae numbers like “I & I” are a nice breather in between the “amps turned up to 11” bedlam. Not that there’s anything wrong with playing loud, but the P.A. wasn’t up to the job and that detracted from their performance. The band launch into some of the songs off their current album “Build a Nation” and these go down well with the partisan crowd. It’s a shame I’m seeing them play in the same week that Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys (who produced “Build a Nation”) has announced that he’s undergoing treatment for cancer.
As I make my way to the back of the venue to take in some of the show from a different vantage point I see Don Letts grooving away, not that surprising given his involvement in the UK Punk scene way back when. All in all, not a bad show despite the sound distortion problems. Bad Brains are not everyone’s cup of tea but if you like loud, fast guitars and heavyweight basslines they’re pretty much unbeatable.
For a glimpse of the band during their early days, have a look at this footage of a show at CBGB’s in 1982. The band played there on 24th, 25th and 26th of December and this is part of the DVD footage that edits those three shows together. Set your ears to stun…