Tuesday, May 7, 2013

BAD BRAINS, Hammersmith Clarendon, London
Melody Maker, May 16th 1987

by Simon Reynolds

Bad Brains double-stun with the tidal wave of their sound and the shock of their incongruity--imagine Burning Spear playing Anthrax. But the link up of Rasta and speedcore is totally appropriate: both subcultures have a total vision of the world as unremitting tribulation and slavery, both imagine liberation in the form of apocalypse. Bad Brains’ music similarly seems to consist in absolutes--of gravity, velocity, heat, cold. Blacks invented rock’n’roll in the first place, so it’s fitting that they’re here at its outer limits, presiding over its ultimate supernova, its whitest white-out. Their singer HR slashes out the beat with an outstretched arm, and it’s like he’s conducting the orbit of planets.

The shows are slick, as tautly rehearsed as The Temptations or Zapp, right down to glib intersong chat. An intensely glamorous bunch--HR lashes the air with his dreadlocks, guitarist Dr. Know wears a permanent gape of joy at his own brilliance, Darryl Jennifer the bassist’s bug eyes and Clinton eyebrows say “I can’t believe we’re doing this!”.

In a way, there’s nothing of themselves in the music, it’s anti-authentic: Bad Brains take the form of hardcore and perfect (exaggerate) it to the point where it’s abstract art.

Such a fastidious assault, so exact, so exacting. Bad Brains are about astounding musicianship crammed within rigid parameters, and so blazing all the more brightly. HR brings an almost scat feel to the straight-ahead melodies, throws in all manner of swerves and dips). Similarly the emotional intensity of Bad Brains, of hardcore in general, comes from when energy is caged, richochets off the walls.

Bad Brains were like a visitation, a bolt from the heavens, and the vast sexless apocalypse of their music left even the grubbiest, most lumpen members of their congregation cleansed, elevated, reborn.

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