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Bad Brains At The Henry Fonda Theater, Saturday December 1st 2012

So I was back at a Bad Brains concert, after having watched them start a street riot a few years ago at the defunct Sunset Junction Fair. That night, the police didn't allow the band to do an encore, as the crowd went totally out of control. This time, the mighty Bad Brains were playing at the Henry Fonda, one of their three west coast dates, and if they have been agitating audiences for more than 35 years, the crowd around me was astonishingly young, and showing on everyone's chest a more diverse collection of band names than a search for ‘punk t-shirt’ on eBay. Black was the color of the night of course, but there also was a lot of naked skin with tattoos and lots of dark punk kids whose main phantasm was probably England circa 1975. The first bands had already started a giant moshing circle, and things were looking great for all these already-excited guys in search of fun rowdiness.

 

Then the Washington D.C. iconic band came on stage, and H.R., wearing an all-white suit, a matching melon hat, a gold tie and a red beard, looked like an eccentric smiling dandy in search of his eyeglasses,… just to point out how elegantly dressed he was! Last time I saw him, he was in military kakis with a towel on his head, so it was a contrast, but he certainly looked good, and this was reinforcing his delicate mannerism he showed all night long.

 

If some hardcore bands deploy tons of physical energy to wake up the crowd, Bad Brains certainly don’t, their serenity and tranquil strength on stage heavily contrasted with their loud and furious music and the mayhem they had triggered in the crowd. I was front row, but I understood very fast I had to move to the side if I didn’t want to be crushed and wanted to continue taking pictures. Five security guards had already planted their large bodies in the pit, ready to receive the successive waves of crowd surfers, and they didn’t seem super happy about it.

 

People couldn’t contain their happiness and rage at the same time, and at the first thunderous riffs of their ‘Intro’, it was chaos, as I expected. People were screaming, pushing, clapping of joy and I was already overwhelmed by the loudness of the sound,… why do I always persist to go at the front? But the Bad Brains guys always know how to balance the show between hardcore pure-punk rage and drowsy dub-rasta-esque-reggae parts,… however, I couldn’t believe that these crazy kids were continuing crowd surfing during the first reggae song. With ‘Attitude’, ‘Right Brigade’, ‘Sailin On’, ‘The Regulator’, they were riding some serious way-back machine, they even played more songs off their 1982 debut album later in the show, giving us almost nothing from their latest effort! What was this about guys? Not a new song? But I would swear they nevertheless did the new one ‘Into the Future’, however, when I checked the setlist after the show, it wasn’t there,… ‘I have never heard that song’ said long dreadlocked bassist Daryl Jennifer after having played the new tune. Wearing a D.C. hip hop artist ‘Upset the Setup’ t-shirt, he looked super happy to be there.

 

If I have read that his early stage performance were all aggression and energy, I was amused to see H.R. smiling all night-long, hopping on stage like a light gazelle, doing all kinds of funny gestures with his hands, and moving in an almost girlie manner. He dedicated ‘Banned in DC’ to… Beyonce, and for many reasons I thought it was quite unexpected and totally laughable at the same time…. I was imagining Beyonce moshing on that fury sound.

 

Song after song, Bad Brains showed how truly originals they still are, how many bands can effortlessly switch between genres the way they do? And their frontman could come up with anything he wants, dressed up the way he desires and people would approve. The show was all positive force and ferocity, the crowd wildly insurrected again at ‘Re-Ignition’, and ‘Pay to Cum’, and then the four guys disappeared…. very shortly after, H.R. tiptoed on stage and they played one more song, ‘I Against I’, after telling us to buy the new album which is ‘magnificent’…. Errr, so why didn’t you play more of it?

 

Setlist

Intro

Attitude

Right Brigade

Sailin On

The Regulator

Jah Love

Give Thanks and Praises

Universal Peace

FVK

I & I Survive

Banned in DC

At the Movies

I Luv I Jah

Re-Ignition

Pay to Cum

I Against I

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