Going Off with OFF! On Halloween At The Record Bar

I was once a teenage punk rock fanatic; from ages 15-19, I was very dogmatic and didactic with my ideas about music. If it wasn’t punk rock, hardcore, or Oi!, I wasn’t interested, but as I got older my interests shifted, my musical tastes expanded beyond one genre with a a lot of sub-categories attached to it, and I stopped going to shows. I just stopped paying attention to the punk scene, while still relentlessly playing the old school bands from my youth.

My show going years were from 1997-2000. It was a monthly, sometimes weekly occurrence. I saw legends: 7seconds, Agnostic Front, the Anti-Heros, the Business, TSOL, Swigin Utters, U.S. Bombs, and so on and so fourth. But all good things must come to end. I would go to a show just about any chance I could get. At that time in my life, I clung so tightly to music because I had so little of anything else going on. If you were to tell me at age 19, when I simply lived from drink to drink and check to check, from shitty jobs I hated, that 13 years later I would be a published student journalist and a senior in college with his sights set on graduation in the near future, I would have assumed you were talking about someone else in an alternate dimension.

Although my life has changed, some things remain the same, I will still come back to the soundtrack of my teenage years. The Southern California bands of the ’80s make up my favorite era and segment of the punk rock, so when I found out OFF ! was going to be in KC, and on Halloween no less, I had to go. I made plans with my friend Chris to go about six weeks in advance. I was not going to miss this for the world, even though it had been over a decade sine I’d been to a decent, big deal punk show.

I’m sure the uninitiated and unaware might be left scratching their heads thinking what is so damn special about some band called OFF !. Because it’s KEITH FUCKING MORRIS, that’s why.!!! –the original lead singer of Black Flag and the front man for the Circle Jerks– KEITH MOTHER FUCKING MORRIS. DECLINE OF THE WESTERN CIVILIZAITON KEITH MORRIS, NERVOUS BREAKDOWN KETIH MORRIS, WILD IN THE STREETS KEITH MORRIS!

But the band is not the traveling Keith Morris experience. Other members actually make up the rest of the band, and they have all been in other notable underground rock acts; the lineup roster consists of Steven McDonald (of Red Kross) on bass, Dimitri Coats( of Burning Brides) on guitar, and Mario Rubalcaba ( of Rocket From The Crypt) on drums. I’m not a fan of any of those bands, so I was drawn to this punk-rock supergroup because of the presence of Keith Morris, and OFF! just kicks ass.

Listening to OFF! was like discovering the first Ramones album all over again. Their music is the rawest form of punk rock, boiled down to its leanest and meanest essentials. Most of the songs clock in at around a minute. (and a few seconds over) It’s the unrestrained energy of the earliest days of old school L.A. Hardcore transported to the present.

Seeing that the show was on Halloween, I knew the holiday itself would add to the energy level and excitement of the show. Halloween is always a party night, and the show was the ultimate punk party. The parade of creative costumes was in full effect. I haven’t dressed up for Halloween since I was a kid; that’s not my thing, but I admired the creativity that was on display. I noticed, show-goers dressed as members of KISS, Devo, Prince, GG Allin, Wednesday and Pugsly Adams, and the cake had to be taken by one gent who came dressed as the spitting image of Hunter S. Thompson.

The night was not just an OFF! extravaganza; two opening bands proceeded OFF!, first Double Negative followed by the Spits. I wasn’t familiar with either band, and I just stood close to the back of the room and watched. When watching Double Negative, I kept thinking the guitar reminds me of Discharge. The Spits got an even more spirited response than Double Negative. I counted more stage dives during the Spits’ set than any other band of the night, which was intriguing, because they were not playing breakneck-paced hardcore, but harder-edge, yet melodic ,garage-ish punk, complete with Screeching Weasel-esque hooks and harmonies. Keeping with the Halloween festivities, they took to the stage in occultist/grim reaper type black robes, accompanied by special stage effects that would have made Motley Crue proud, as the fired up the smoke machines, a big skull stage ornament with a strobe light, and at one point the drummer’s symbols were set on fire.

OFF! also came to the stage in costume, as the drummer, guitarist, and bass player dawned rasta gear with deadlocked wigs, and huge, oversized fake spliffs in their mouths. After a very brief reggae interlude, they launched into their brand of adrenaline laced hardcore-punk.

When OFF! were on, I felt the urge to move from the back of the venue to the front. I handed my coat, keys, and wallet to Chris, and I dove into the mosh pit with reckless abandon. After they raged through about 25 songs, I staggered out of the Record Bar drenched in sweat, still trying to catch my breath, and during those moments of cathartic, controlled aggression and an amplified sonic assault, I was able to reconnect with the electricity that flowed through my veins at age 19. It’s not every day you get to be in the presence of a punk rock living legend. By the way, Keith Morris is really short in person.