Monday, July 16 , 2018, 4:42 am | Fair 65º

 
 
 
 

Jeff Moehlis: Bad Brains, Great Music

The pioneering hard-core punk band performs at the Majestic Ventura Theater

Two metrics for critically evaluating rock bands are “popularity” and “importance,” the latter being a somewhat nebulous measure of the extent to which the band pushed the boundaries of the medium and influenced other bands.

Some bands were/are inarguably both popular and important, such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Nirvana and Radiohead.

Many bands are popular but not so important. To avoid offending anyone, I won’t name names here, but you can probably come up with your own list.

Then there are bands that are important but never enjoyed much popularity. Classic examples include The Velvet Underground, whose simple chord progressions and lyrical explorations of life’s dark side foreshadowed punk rock, and Big Star, whose power pop music was mostly ignored while they were together but was a huge influence on later bands such as R.E.M. and The Replacements.

Add Bad Brains to the list of important bands that never enjoyed much popularity. Formed in the late 1970s in Washington, D.C., Bad Brains played punk rock with previously unheard of (pun intended) speed and precision, helping pioneer the genre of hard-core punk.

On Thursday night, more than 30 years after forming, the original members of Bad Brains — vocalist H.R. (Paul Hudson), lead guitarist Dr. Know (Gary Miller), bassist Darryl Jenifer and drummer (and H.R.‘s brother) Earl Hudson — played an intense show at the Majestic Ventura Theater. It included both hard-core punk and reggae, the latter being another genre that the (Rastafarian) band members explore. Although they might not enjoy mass popularity, the turnout was quite healthy.

The concert started with two reggae numbers, including tripped-out guitar solos and lots of dub-style echoed guitar, drums and vocals. Things then kicked into ultra-high gear with the breakneck song “Attitude,” which inspired a crazy mosh pit in the front. (Incidentally, this is the third local concert in the past week with moshing, the first being Primus at the Santa Barbara Bowl and the second being the Wavves at SOhO. Like the music, I’d say the Bad Brains pit was the most aggressive of the three.)

Other “classic” Bad Brains punk songs included “Sailin’ On,” “At the Movies,” “Soul Craft,” “Give Thanks and Praises,” “Banned in D.C.” and the raucous “Pay to Cum,” which led to complete mosh pit mayhem. These were punctuated by reggae songs, including “I and I Survive” and “I Luv I Jah.”

The highlight of the show was “I Against I,” played as an encore, a hard-core punk song that packs an amazing number of ideas (both musical and lyrical) into a few minutes. This is arguably the band’s crowning achievement.

Special note must be made of H.R.‘s wardrobe, consisting of a white sheik headdress held on by a headband that matched his black and golden-sparkly robe. It was somewhat surreal to see him dressed as such, standing mostly still while rapidly spouting lyrics over the sonic maelstrom.

Afterward, I ended up next to a sweaty kid who was a bit battered from moshing, and who muttered as he caught his breath, “That was awesome.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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