Bad Brains, H2O @Irving Plaza, NYC - April 17th, 2012

Posted on April 18, 2012 by Ryan O'Neill

In his book “The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon”, Cro-Mags lead singer John Joseph (McGowan) recounts his time stationed in Norfolk, VA while a part of the United States Navy. It is here around 1980 that Joseph first encounters Washington, DC’s Bad Brains, a band which he would eventually become a roadie for before singing for the Cro-Mags:

“They were in the middle of their sound check when the drummer clicked off a four count and the shit really hit the fan. I never heard anything like it in my life; lightning fast chords that they were able to stop on a dime, flip, turn around and race back the other way. The singer moved like no one I had ever seen before. He was fit as hell and had the finesse of James Brown, the anger of Johnny Rotten and a shaking ability that made Elvis look like a fuckin’ paraplegic.” – John Joseph, “The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon”

My first encounter with the Bad Brains came about 15 years later. The first record I owned that had anything of theirs on it was the amazing compilation put out by Another Planet records called “Sunday Matinee: The Best of NY Hardcore.” (Bad Brains moved to the East Village from Washington, DC and holed up at 171A.) This record kicks off with Sailin’ On. This led me straight to the revolutionary ROIR Sessions, the album with the now-famous logo of the Washington, DC Capitol building being struck by lightning on its cover. I even remember being a little too excited at finding a copy of the Rock for Light CD while I was on a class trip in Minneapolis in high school. When I took guitar lessons briefly a few years ago, one of the first songs I wanted to learn how to play was Re-Ignition.

With all that said, sadly the closest I had come to actually seeing Bad Brains live was in seeing Darryl Jenifer’s band Stealth play at one of the Superbowl’s of Hardcore in Washington, DC. After talking to a few people who had seen Bad Brains somewhat recently, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, and because of that I was happy with what I got. I knew that long gone were the days where HR moved the way John Joseph described and where HR would do a perfectly timed backflip to the ending of “At The Movies” as in this Youtube video: Bad Brains - At The Movies (1979)

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Two things from the show did surprise me though. One, the band music-wise can still hang with anyone in much the same way as Joseph describes. Dr. Know, Darryl Jenifer, and Earl Hudson are all amazing musicians and each of them can still play at a very high level. HR at this point though just seems lost and either unable or unwilling to get into it. The best parts of the show were when the band was playing and the entire crowd was singing along, especially to favorites like “Sailin’ On”, “Right Brigade”, and “I Against I”. With HR in his current state, they are unfortunately just a nostalgia act. I was expecting a more balanced decline all the way around, and instead it seems as if the band is being held back by HR’s condition. I knew to expect the nostalgia comparison, even though not in this exact manner, and so I still had a great time.

H2O played as one of the openers. This was probably about the 10th or 12th time that I had seen them, but the first time in about 10 years. They always put on an entertaining show and tonight was no different.