The Bad Brains 2008
Resident west coast DCXX connection, Joe Nelson, gets back with us to fill us in on a recent weekend romp with HC's greatest of all time. -Gordo DCXX
Over the weekend of November 8th and 9th I ventured out to Austin, TX to catch the "Fun Fun Fun Festival," a great 2-day even which happens every October in the self-proclaimed "Music Capital of The World". This years line up included Rival Schools (who I was working for), All, Kool Keith, Black Heart Procession, Integrity, DOA, The Dead Milkmen, Kevin Seconds, the unbelievably GREAT festival stealing "Cro Mags Jam", and of course the legendary Punk / Rastafarians, the Bad Brains. The greatest band whoever lived, allegedly.
When I first saw the Bad Brains back in 1985 they destroyed. This was even, according to some, 3 – 4 years after their prime, too. The singer bounced around the stage like a wild rabid animal. The band blistered through blistering songs, stopping on a dime, only to whip into another typhoon of a song. There were back flips, and prophetic statements. It was more then just hardcore. It was music. It was religious. It was illuminating. I was converted. Three years later I would even ditch my senior prom to see the band play again. Anytime they've played I have tried to catch them.
As the years have passed though, the band has become more and more sketchy, mostly due to their prophetic leader Human Rights, or H.R.. He's become so unpredictable that there have been shows where he hasn't even bothered to sing, AT ALL. They played the House of Blues in Los Angeles, CA recently, and it was, well, in a word… "interesting". Therefore I'm prepared for whatever comes my way tonight. It's the main reason why a lot of us are here. I rationalize with some of the doubters that if we had the chance to watch Miles Davis play, no matter what, even during his coked out 80s freak out era, wouldn't we have gone just to say we saw him? The same goes for Bad Brains. Well, at least for me, and the guys I'm with it is the same. That's why we're here in Austin on a Sunday night, plus no matter what happens, I'm pretty sure it will be, well, "interesting"
Before the Bad Brains even take the stage, H.R. emerges and stands before the crowd, like a black Moses. He's yelling unintelligible stuff out at the audience. People are going crazy, completely nuts! "Oh how they have no idea what's in store" I think to myself. "This could be ugly". If my prediction is correct it will be no fault of the bands; Dr.Know, Earl, Hudson and Darryl Jennifer bring it every night. They have for 30 fucking years, too. They are true greats. Living legends. They are our scenes Coltrane and Miles. Cosmic musicians who should be in the annals of music history for the rest of time.
Nope, the problem lies squarely inside H.R. who today is some sort of riddle that nobody, not even H.R, himself seems to be able to solve. Rumors have swirled for years that H.R. suffers from schizophrenia. If that is true then whoever is in charge these days is really off the grid. I know all this, as do most of my crew in the audience. Most of these Texas punkers however have NO IDEA.
The Blue Ghost and Joe Nelson
H.R. leaves the stage, and soon the band emerges. The swell of anticipation rises, as the band checks levels, adjusts their monitors and what not. After about 5 minutes of waiting H.R. returns in all his glory. My man of course is now dressed up like some sort of blue ghost. He has wrapped himself up in a blue sheet, or shroud, or blanket, or something blue. Surprise Mother Fuckers!
"Welcome ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming tonight, for Human Rights and The Good Brains. We are going to play some songs for you tonight…some classics, some new songs…yesssssss…mmmmmmm," he says
And with that the band launches into its set of hits… "Attitude", "Right Brigade", "F.V.K.", "Banned in D.C.", and on and on and on. The band is so tight. Darryl's bass is right in the pocket, moving around the rhythm seamlessly. Earl has slowed down some, but for a dude in his 50s he still gets after it more ferociously then most any drummer ½ his age. Doc is bringing it, he always does, keeping the crunch at times, while blazing wildly on others. It's brutal. Then there's my man. The Blue Ghost is doing his lazy singing, ventriloquist act, sometimes singing the words, and sometimes just saying whatever comes to mind. It's fascinating to watch.
In between songs H.R. says bizarro things such as "This one is for the teachers. It's fall now, school is in session…but soon it's sprrinnnnnngggg time..."or something like that. It's completely MAD. The punk rock cowboys in front of me are getting restless. "What the fuck is this shit?" I hear somebody say…"This SUCKS" cries another. Yes, the fans are pissed. This is the band that The Beastie Boys, The Chili Peppers, Fugazi, and pretty much every other musician from the 80s sites as THE BAND OF ALL BANDS!?!?!?!? For the love of GOD say it ain't so.
Then it dawns on me. Perhaps H.R. is doing some sort of Andy Kaufman act, which is actually a total commitment to the complete destruction of the Bad Brains. Perhaps he's lucent, and "this" is his new art. Destroy Babylon. Destroy what every one else has put up on such a high pedestal. It would after all be the Rasta way to give all praise to "Jah," so maybe in my man's mind, the only way he can truly give ALL praise to Jah is to suck out any remaining love for the Bad Brains in the process. OR he could just be as mad as a hatter. Either way no matter how people are feeling about what their eyes and ears signal to them, they can't turn away. H.R. still is in command.
One of my favorite moments comes when H.R. unwraps himself from his blue tapestry, and for a song or two walks around without it. He sings an amazing version of "I and I" totally committed to the song, and his voice as clear as ever. It only fuels my conspiracy theory of what H.R. is really all about in 2008…FUCKING WITH US! After a few songs though he decides to wrap himself back up. My friend says to me "Well there he goes…back inside for the night." For the rest of set he wanders around, mumbling crazy shit, and singing songs like if he were just letting water run out of his mouth and down his chin.
Bad Brains set list from Fun Fest
Towards the end of the set The Blue Ghost invites everyone to come see them play at the Hollywood, Palladium…in LOS ANGELES. They do "Pay To Cum", and then encore with "I Against I." Mercifully it is now over. Somebody yells into the mic "Let's hear it for the Bad Brains!" Nobody really cheers, but H.R. is unfazed by that or pretty much anything that's happening, and he takes the mic back and says "no no brother…Human Rights and the Good Brains," and that ends the show.
We all retire to some nearby bar called the Mohawk to discuss what we have just witnessed. Opinions are split, Some of us think that H.R. is just fucking with us, and that being the great showman, the artistic genius that he is, the new act is to be so wild and unpredictable that people will keep on coming back. It's the "car crash syndrome theory", and it carries weight. Some of us believe that the beloved Brains are now reduced to playing out this sad divine comedy. We talk about how the band should seriously think about not playing with H.R anymore, even though that has never worked for them in the past. Is it right to bring a mentally sick individual on stage every night? Is he even sick?
That's the real paradox of the Brains though, isn't it? In the beginning H.R. was the end all be all spiritual leader of not only the band, but also the whole scene. The great presence. The greatest front man in the history of such things. The true rock and roll messiah. At their peak they were unstoppable, and H.R. was their unflappable leader. Through the years though H.R. as moved in and out of sanity. Either contrived or genuine, he's become an uninsurable liability. Several times the other 3 have carried on without him, who can blame them? However they always come to find that no matter what, the public wants H.R. Without him they are just not the Bad Brains. Great musicians, worthy of our attention whenever they grace us with any endeavor, yes, but as the Bad Brains, no. It's been their magical curse since the bands inception, I think. H.R. lead them to greatness years ago but the trade off is now they are forced to live out the rest of their living legacy with H.R. In a way it's like Robert Johnson's "deal with the devil" at the crossroads. Darryl, Doc, and Earl's deal is not with the Devil, but instead with The Blue Ghost. It is what it is.
On our way back to the hotel, we are STILL talking about what we saw. Trying to figure out how the fuck band meetings work. What is the process? How do Darryl and Doc feel about H.R.? Does H.R. have a handler? He must right? How does he even get to the show on time? What's flying with him like? He must get pulled for "random" security checks every single time, right? We're pretty loud as we enter the hotel parking lot. As we do I look up, and there on the 4th floor balcony staring down on us are the Bad Brains passing a spliff between each other… "Oh SHIT" I whisper. "Did they hear us?" We all fall silent, and then somebody in our crew says "Yeah Bad Brains!" and like a bunch of complete weirdos we all break out into applause. The Brains just stare down at us smoking their weed, being legends.
Come morning we enter the hotel lobby to check out. H.R. is still on my mind. As I stand in line I feel a great presence. Somebody is staring at us. I turn and look over my shoulder, and their sitting on the lobby sofa is The Blue Ghost, H.R. himself. He's staring right at us. "FUCK"!!! We mumble to ourselves about it for a few. "Is he still looking at us? You look…No, fuck that, you look." A minute goes by and I turn… "YEP, he's still staring at us." Eyes locked in. "SHIT!" Then he rises and walks towards us…"Oh great" I think… "what's he going to say to us? We are in such trouble." As he approaches we are all forced to meet his gaze head on. All I can manage to say is "Hey." He just smiles back at me, all knowing, all controlling, and then he says to all of us, but nobody in particular, "Well…thanks for coming brothas…hope you enjoyed the show?" And with that he exits the hotel, into a waiting shuttle van outside, and just like Keyser Söze, "poof", he's gone! As for the "show"? Well, it still will go on, but only The Blue Ghost really knows how it will end.
Bad Brains "Pay To Cum" @ Fun Fun Fun Festival, Austin, TX, November 9th, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Posted by DOUBLE CROSS at 8:54 PM