The Bad Brains did a blistering tour of Britain in 1983. Soundmaker, 21 May, 1983 reviews one of the gigs.
Sometimes being original, nay unique, can work against you. A black New York Rastafarian hardcore punk reggae band? You’ve got to be kidding me! Terrible memories of Pure Hell remain as a warning against facile cross-cultural fertilization of cultures, an insult to both Punk and black music.
On of the great things about the Sex Pistols was the bravado with which they mashed up their audience with the heaviest in dub before they went and played some of the most wonderful rockist white trash music to be played for years. Punk and reggae always went together, even if they were at opposite ends of the spectrum. It took 2-Tone to play music that truly stood midway between Punk and Reggae, but it did that by going BACK. Two steps forward, three steps back – great music.
It’s still possible to experience music that proves that all of these so-called “opposing” styles are merely marketing ploys, aids to help people who don’t have ears to choos the music they consume. That experience is THE BAD BRAINS. (Or is it Bad Brains – everything is in flux round here). What do you get?
You gt four black New Yorkers who know what they’re about, who play their instruments, who actually (in these jaded times) like what they play. They play punk songs, surreally short, which introduce instant chaos in front of the stage. Through these thrashes whines a guitar that screams, moans, cries, lush wild and heavy.
Is this the Small Faces circa 1966 or is this Jimi Hendrix? Is this Garageland thrash or Psychedelia? Are these obviously skillful musicians parodying the excesses of incompetent white tributes to R ‘n’ B or have they heard something in that – something they want to make themselves? I would argue the latter. The punk they play is too sharp, the explosions too lovingly honed and directed for this to be lazy satire. The singers gestures are magnificent, this is a man who has learnt from the source: anyone remember Iggy Pop?
The reggae they play – welcome respite from the adrenalin surges that surround it – is clipped, modern, militant. What Misty would sound like if they lost their woolliness, their community-centre safeness. The singer raps about the revolution (“You have to go to it – it will not come to you“) and racism, transfixing moral lessons that hark back to the revivalism of Jerry Lee Lewis, the apocalyptical poetry of Aretha’s dad (the Reverend CL Franklin), the challenge of the MC5.
The audience was stunned. So was I.