Bad Brains are part of my holy trinity of hardcore. Legendary pioneers from the 80s that I’ll never get to witness live. Yet while I may feel a greater emotional attachment and sentiment to other bands from this trailblazing era, Bad Brains are the act I would choose to see live if and when time travel becomes possible. Their live shows from the early 1980s have attained such a mythical status for their frenzied storms they would create that it would be worth risking the space-time continuum to travel back to Christmas 1982 at CBGBs to witness H.R in his manic prime.
Taken from their self-titled debut LP, which is one of the greatest rock albums of all time and remains essential listening for anyone who considers themselves a fan of rock music, “Banned in DC” is a two minute anthem sticking it to the man and the conformist sheep that blindly fall into line. In the band’s early days in Washington DC, the Bad Brains were a dangerous act. Many of their sets descended into riots with fans revved into such a frenzy that they would rip up the venue and pour onto the streets. D.C Club owners became so fearful of the Bad Brains that they banned them entirely, forcing the group to relocate to New York.
From the moment Earl Hudson’s drum pounds into life, “Banned in DC” moves at such a breakneck speed that it will practically suck the air out of your lungs. Yet what is most remarkable about Bad Brains is that while they played faster than everyone else, technically they were out of this world. Four supremely talented musicians playing innovative music at a speed that defied belief with a fury that burned brighter than the sun. Listening to their music you’re faced with two options: Get swept up into the frenzy or get the hell out of the way and wait in the carpark.
Yet while their 80s heyday remains the stuff of rock legend, the years and decades since have not been kind as the Bad Brains have lurched from crisis to another. More often than not, these mishaps have been the result of vocalist H.R’s self destructive behaviour ranging from cancelled shows, stints in jail, homophobic slurs and serious medical issues.
Seven years ago the Bad Brains announced an Australian tour only to cancel a few months later. At the time I was disappointed the tour fell through but in hindsight it was probably for the best. The band, H.R in particular, were no longer that same chaotic whirlwind of dangerous energy; time catches up with to everyone, even legends and it’s hard to maintain the rage when you’ve pushed past 50. Youtube clips of their recent shows don’t hold a candle to their blistering past. Seeing them limp their way through a set would be too much to take. Remember that season Michael Jordan played with the Wizards? The Bad Brains are the live musical equivalent. Once they were an unstoppable force of nature that destroyed everything in its path but now they’re just a bunch of old dudes clinging to the broken shards of the past. You can’t help but pity them even as they tarnish their legacy. All you can do is shake your head and remember how great they were.
I’ve resigned myself to never seeing the Bad Brains live, at least until time travel becomes possible. In the mean time, I’ll have to make do with postcards of mayhem like this:
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”
A glorious sound of a time gone by
Southern California’s Gameface were always a band that seemed perfect just below the cusp. Their brand of pop-tinged punk was somewhere in between the melancholy driven emo of the early 1990s to what would become of radio-friendly punk bands evolving from the Jimmy Eat Worlds of the… world.
I loved this band. It was songs like “My Star” and “When You’ve Had Enough” that captured my attention. They didn’t fit in with the punk explosion of the mid-90s and had more melodic chops than those that remained in the underground with bands like Quicksand and Texas is the Reason (the latter being the most musically similar).
To this day, I count their track “How Far Is Goodbye?” as one I can listen to on any given day and still feel the same way about it as I did years ago. It’s a glorious sound of a time gone by, and Jeff Caudill, who has been the backbone of their songwriting since the beginning, has still got the chops his ilk can only dream of. There’s a tinge of melancholy that conjures up a certain sadness, a scene in a movie where the protagonist is making their exit into the distance as the scene closes. Something about the song, the sentiment, and the lyrics that always reminds of driving away while looking at the rear view mirror.
Five years ago Gameface released a new album, Now Is What Matters, an album that perfectly encapsulated their ability to write with emotion, melody, and magnetism that only a select few seem to possess. I interviewed frontman Jeff Caudill before the album came out to chat about the band, an interview I think still holds up. Caudill has been busy since then with a lot of solo material, while the band themselves have been releasing music sporadically (mostly singles) since 2014.
While their catalog is deep, there’s one song I keep coming back to, and that’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”. Originally released on the split 10″ vinyl with Errortype: 11 in 2000, the song received an update in 2018, which you can hear below.
Gameface photo from Gameface facebook page.