LIVE THE Stupids are never quite as monstrous as on record. Tonight, hampered by the nonappearance of guitarist Marty Tuff, their frantic thrashing stirred up a strangely immobile cloud of noise that loomed in the distance rather than sweeping over to engulf us. Hard core should drown.
Bambi Slam songs are Pebbles tantrums. Sixties punk with tweaks of feedback and a beat like a little brat stamping its feet on the spot, or the Glitter Band at 78rpm. Interesting, but unfortunately made to seem puny and flat-footed by the noise and majesty of what followed.
Bad Brains double-stun with a tidal wave of their sound and the shock of their incongruity — imagine Burning Spear playing Anthrax. But the link-up of Rasta and speed core is totally appropriate; both sub-cultures 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 super-nova, its whitest white-out. Their singer 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 inter-song chat. An intensely glamorous bunch — the singer lashes the air with his dreadlocks, the guitarist wears a permanent gape of joy at his own brilliance, 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 hard core 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. (The singer 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 hard core in general, comes from when energy is caged, ricochets 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, re-born.
© Simon Reynolds, Melody Maker, 16 May 1987