Show Review: OFF! at Amoeba Records Berkeley, 5/12/2012

by Jonathan Pirro on May 15, 2012

Mario Rubalcaba, Keith Morris, and Steven McDonald of OFF!

Mario Rubalcaba, Keith Morris, and Steven McDonald of OFF!

When a band comes to a local record shop to do an in-store appearance, it’s a really unique type of event. Songs are generally stripped down to a more acoustic and delicate format, conversations are had between the band and the crowd with greater regularity and openness, and it’s a guaranteed opportunity for a meet-and-greet that often costs nothing more than the price of the group’s new record — which, in all likelihood, you’re there to buy so that they can sign it. However, not all artists can comfortably fit the first item on the agenda — a quiet show, an intimate arrangement of instruments — into their setup, and when their output’s main focus is blisteringly-fast, unflinchingly-loud, viciously-penned hardcore punk music, it’s not even in the same galaxy. Thus, the four-piece supergroup known as OFF! unleashed their set in Berkeley’s own Amoeba Records very much like they had the previous night at Slim’s in San Francisco: amps piled about, drummer Mario Rubalcaba sandwiched in between the gear on the miniscule stage, and every single object capable of emitting sound cranked into the stratosphere for 30 solid minutes.

Keith Morris of OFF!

Keith Morris of OFF!

Even with record shelves, CD cabinets, and other retail paraphernalia lining the walls and floors of the store, Amoeba Records found itself packed to the gills with a hodgepodge of customers and long-time punk fans, all eager to see the newest musical concoction by two masterminds of fierce music: Keith Morris, original singer of Black Flag and frontman of the Circle Jerks, and Dimitri Coats, guitarist and lead songwriter of Philadelphia hard rockers Burning Brides. Barely 5 minutes past the hour of 4:00PM, the quartet marched onstage, snapped on their respective instruments, and Morris introduced the band amid a wail of birthing feedback. After hoisting a vinyl copy of the band’s new self-titled album for all to see, Morris stepped back to the edge of the tiny stage, and Coats let loose a raging cannon of earsplitting riffs as OFF! kicked off their set with “Panic Attack”, a furious track from their debut release, The First Four EPs. In barely a minute’s time, the song had come snarling to its end, and the four wasted no time proceeding into “I Don’t Belong” — itself another dynamite burst of sound delivered at a breakneck pace.

Dimitri Coats of OFF!

Dimitri Coats of OFF!

Despite the limited amount of space, and the fragile foundations around them discouraging a more belligerent performance, all four members of OFF! were exploding with energy as they cranked through the set. Coats becomes an inhuman blur of thrashing hair and feverishly-moving hands that claw at his guitar, searing the space around him with dynamite riffs; bassist Steven McDonald pinballs back and forth, offering an unctuous but pounding wall of shudderingly-massive low end; and Rubalcaba seems to focus all of his energy into demolishing his kit with every single hit of his sticks. All the while, the frantic gestures, manic expressions, and jackal-in-a-buzzsaw snarl of Keith Morris match the thunderstorm of musicianship around him, as the singer leaps back and forth in his small space, howling and shouting with ever-increasing ferocity.

Dimitri Coats, Keith Morris and Mario Rubalcaba of OFF!

Dimitri Coats, Keith Morris and Mario Rubalcaba of OFF!

Stripping things back to the roots of hardcore music, OFF!’s songs are incredibly short and shockingly dense with powerful riffs, scathingly sharp vocals, and a full-on assault of rhythm and bass. Even with brief monologues offered by Morris to the crowd around them, OFF! managed to plow through 16 songs in the span of 30 minutes, with short breaks taken every 3-4 tracks. Morris offered his concerns about the world of music, the sorry state of the world and our economy, and a hope for growth in the future through support of local venues and businesses like the one they were in that day. Morris’ opening remark of surprise — that they hadn’t finished their set in the first 10 minutes of the performance — turned out to be more or less accurate; OFF!’s set was over early as quickly as it had begun, and Morris offered words of thanks to their onlookers, amid wild cheers and shouts from the tightly-packed crowd.

Dimitri Coats and Keith Morris of OFF!

Dimitri Coats and Keith Morris of OFF!

I was unable to see OFF! at Slim’s the night before, as I had been holed up in AT&T Park, and within minutes of the set beginning, I regretted the decision to not pull a double-header and schlep across town afterwards, in order to watch the quartet melt faces for their still-undoubtedly-short normal-venue set. All the chaos and catharsis that dominated the hardcore records of the 1980s is present within each of OFF!’s minute-long blasts of white-hot mayhem, and Morris’ restless energy is force-fed into the audience around him, whether he is bellowing out his razor-sharp roar, or offering powerful, thought-provoking words of concern and action for the world at large. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to see this mesmerizing band in a setting that didn’t involve being crushed within a stampeding moshpit, and fully recognize that such an environment will no doubt be omnipresent in all future appearances of these stunning musicians. If the world is slowing down, OFF! is here to crank things up to beyond terminal velocity — so don’t miss them!

OFF!'s setlist

OFF!'s setlist

Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2012 Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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