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OFF!'s Keith Morris Played the Audience Like a Pro at Club Dada

Keith Morris of OFF!
Keith Morris of OFF!
Jordan Halverson

OFF! With Cerebral Ballzy and Nasa Space Universe Club Dada, Dallas Friday, May 23, 2014

There's the great scene in The Dark Knight where Alfred explains to Bruce Wayne the true nature of the Joker. "Some men just want to watch the world burn," says Alfred.

Watching Keith Morris front OFF! Friday night at Dada, I got the feeling that Morris was a lot like the Joker. Bantering and baiting the audience all night, the former Black Flag and Circle Jerks frontman was the true embodiment of punk rock: angry, aggressive and unrepentant. And like the Joker, Morris' actions were often beyond reason.

Keith Morris, at 58 years old, is still a wonder to behold. Lord knows the guy could have easily rested on past punk laurels and just entered the spoken word circuit ala Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra. Instead, he's making some of the best music of his life and some of the best hardcore punk in America.

Prowling the stage like a pint-sized anarchist with dreads, Morris growled, hissed, cursed and cajoled while his band played stop-on-a-dime hardcore as if their lives depended on it. Granted, OFF! is somewhat of a punk rock super group consisting of Morris, Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides), Steven Shane McDonald (Redd Kross) and Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket From the Crypt, Hot Snakes); so it's expected that a collection of seasoned pros would be able to hit on all cylinders.

But what Morris and crew did on Friday went beyond common expectations. In front of a large and enthusiastic collection of punks and punk voyeurs, OFF! was able to both please and piss off those in attendance. Such a skill harkens back to the golden age of American hardcore, a time when bands such as Bad Brains, Black Flag, the Misfits and Fear didn't give a damn what an audience expected. Hell, these bands hit the stage with the intent of confusing and confronting fans. The best shows were like a war between band and audience.

That's the feeling fostered by Morris as OFF! ripped through songs such as "Void You Out," "Borrow and Bomb," "Red, White and Black" and "Legion of Evil," one- to two-minute blasts of aggression that never wavered in intensity or impact.

Between songs, Morris challenged the crowd with claims that (among other things) Austin was a better city than Dallas, that all Cowboys, not just the Dallas variety, sucked, and that those with an interest in race car driving were "fucking morons." There was more, a lot more; but each time Morris would incite the crowd, the band's glorious roar would back up the singer's transgressions. Kudos to the crowd for giving it right back to Morris while still enjoying OFF!'s talented thrash.

And kudos to both opening acts. Santa Ana, California's Nasa Space Universe and Brooklyn's Cerebral Ballzy put on noisy sets of untamed violence that made the continued influence of hardcore punk undeniably clear.

Nasa Space Universe featured the talents of "singer" Kevin Rhea, a guy who chooses to "sing" while mixing it up in the mosh pit. A few times, the microphone was a casualty of the sweaty throng and such songs as "Peeping Toddler" and "Holy Methography" became instrumentals.

Cerebral Ballzy featured a slightly more metallic influence that often descended into chaos. "Insufficient fare," "Another Day" and "On the Run" were songs that became indistinguishable from one another.

As intense as either band could be, neither Nasa Space Universe nor Cerebral Ballzy used the rhythm section as anything but two other musicians flailing away, adding to the din. It was a remarkable din, but one that lacked the discipline that makes OFF! so vital.

At the end of over three hours of prime hardcore, I left physically and emotionally exhausted.

OFF! Set list:

Void You Out Black Thoughts Borrow and Bomb Hypnotized Now I'm Pissed No Easy Escape Poison City King Kong Brigade Rat Trap Red White and Black I Got News for You Legion of Evil Blast Crawl Darkness Wrong Over Our Heads Jeffrey Lee Pierce Wiped Out Panic Attack

Encore: I Don't Belong Upside Down


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