Apr 19, 2012
“These guys were gods to us,” I told my friend Ken. He and I had played together in a band that was inspired by the Bad Brains and even had one song, “Our Savage God,” which was very much “in the style of.” I’d been listening to them since ’88—my kid brother saw them some years before that, so I’d heard of them way before that—but had never seen them ever.
A pit started jumping as soon as they fell into “Rights Brigade” and I was getting crushed against the people in front of me. I did find it was easier to deal with the moshers when I was aggressive, shoving them backwards en masse (I’m big-ish), but I soon tired of this (being old and frail as well), eventually drifting back to the other side of the pit where I could see and deflect what was coming at me (admittedly, with some remorse and self-criticism that I had chosen not to endure the up front intensity as my more stalwart friend did).
Before the show, my assumption was that the band (Dr. Know, guitar; Darryl Jenifer, bass; Earl Hudson, drums) was still going to rock—which they unequivocally did—but that HR might not be all there. The last time I had seen him was in Ithaca in 1993. He was touring with his reggae band but by the time he showed up at The Haunt that night, the band had quit. He had the club play his latest album over the PA and sang along and I left.
From the very outset the other night, however, HR was present, committed, and, frankly, humble. As the set progressed, he seemed increasingly pleased with himself—like he couldn’t believe it was happening and he was killing it. For most songs, when he wasn’t strumming along on a guitar (which people suggested wasn’t plugged in???), he stood absolutely still and sang with a focused concentration, his hands in the pockets of his odd, brown velour jumpsuit. This performance was uncanny because, between him and me there raged a maelstrom of bodies hurling themselves around and at each other, his calm crazily and even eerily accentuated by the pit.
To cool out the crowd, and fill out the set, the band did play four or five long, dubbed-out reggae jams that were exceedingly heavy and spaced and chilled everyone into a head-bobbing lull. They went pretty deep, dubwise, which made the return to thrashing hardcore all the more dramatic and drove people into a frenzy.
If I had seen these guys when I was younger, they would have been unreal, untouchable idols to me. Now, they were mere mortals. Dudes as old as (older than?) me playing music they love for people that love it. And as harsh as this world’s been getting (there is a WAR on, after all), this mortality, brought a kind of utopian peace to the show.
H2O opened. They were really cool. I forgot how much I liked anthemic hardcore performed by people completely devoted to the music and the philosophy (particularly those inhabiting the straight edge part of the spectrum). They too were very human, very out front, very earnest. It reminded me how much I appreciate and admire it when someone dedicates themselves to a particular way of life, a philosophy, a standard. “One life, one chance!”
Note about the title of this post: I ran into my friend Hank at the show and at one point leaned over to him and said, “The mosh pit’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, our Lord.” I said this not only because he’s a reverend, but also due to HR’s holy fool quality. It/he seemed to sanctify the mosh.