Born of the early American hardcore pedigree of bands like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, the members of OFF! understand there’s virtue in playing fast. And that’s not just a commentary on the brevity of their songs, most of which max out at 45 seconds to a minute in length. On stage, the band works its set with the expediency and rugged finesse of a high octane, no-huddle NFL offense and the urgency of a bank robbery. The rule is simple: Come in, get the job done and get the fuck out of dodge.
That no-nonsense precision dictated the pace of the band’s headlining set at Bottom Lounge on Saturday night, along with that from openers The Spits, who employed a similarly fastidious, grind-it-out approach. After a brisk 25 minute set from Raleigh hardcore stalwarts Double Negative appropriately set the blitzkrieg tone for the night, The Spits, complete with an ornate stage display that included a smoke machine, riled fans to a frenzy with their fun, adolescent-charged brand of gutter punk. Theatrics always have their part to play in a Spits set, and the band quite literally launched their set with fireworks and streamers. And while its worth mentioning they largely decided to forego their trademark costumes for a show set just days before Halloween, it almost makes perfect subversive sense for the band to choose Halloween weekend to leave the graduation robes and masks at home. Regardless, they shredded through a healthy dose of cuts new and old over the course of their 30 minutes onstage, with “All I Want”, “Live In a Van”, and “Sk8” taking top honors.
After just a few short years together, OFF! already have their gig down to a science. Led by the fierce, no-bullshit intensity of former Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris and rounded out by guitarist Dimitri Coates (Burning Brides), bassist Steve McDonald (Redd Kross), and drummer Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket From The Crypt, Earthless), the band effortlessly plays punk rock stripped bare of pretense and cut purely out of hardened conviction. In a set that barely skirted the 45 minute mark, the hardcore all stars still managed to belt out a sizeable majority of material from their First Four EPs compilation and this year’s self titled debut. For many in attendance (myself included) who grew up relishing classicist American hardcore of the late 70s and early 80s but were too young to take it all in up close, the outfit offered an exuberant taste of the genre’s scathing first wave.
Morris broke up the flow some with patches of extended stage banter, furrowing his brow and extolling on the importance of voting and his inherent distrust for politics, while Rubalcaba also took to the mic to pay homage to a dearly departed friend from Chicago. But all things considered, the band’s set was marked by the kind of DIY authenticity that so many band’s preach but few manage to live up to nowadays.