No. Fucking. Way. OFF! at Staples Center? I don’t throw down bags of money to see a band in a huge arena very often, but damn. How could I not see the raddest group in the world and pride of L.A. punk staging a coup d’etat at the beloved home of my Lakers and Kings?
But first things first. The night before there was The Promise Ring at the Avalon. What! Apparently, the group will release a rarities collection sometimes soon and is playing some shows in support of it. I’m a fan of the band from Wisconsin and have seen them open for some pretty big names (Jets to Brazil, Weakerthans…) but what’s up with their setup being pushed way in front of DJ gear set up for dance night? The band has never gotten much respect, but still crank out all their super melodic, crowd-pleasing numbers with a ton of chops and energy. I thought it was really great when singer Davey von Bohlen said something like, “That was an old song. Here’s an even older one.” And it was equally troubling when he remarked that he wished he could just walk away and never sing again. Some people in the audience thought it was a joke, but it sounded like therapy to me. See the band when when you can, because who knows how long they’ll be sticking together.
On the heels of headlining the awesome, literally subterranean Power of the Riff gathering at The Echoplex, OFF! followed up with a gig on Los Angeles’ biggest stage opening for the Chili Peppers. When the latter show was announced and I started obsessing about the sold-out bill, my wife was able to purchase some tickets through her work. (Yes, a keeper.) She got us some pretty killer seats, just four rows off the floor–right behind Spider Man, Gwen Stacy, Woody Harrelson, and Rick Rubin–and diagonal to the gigantic-but-stripped-down stage where OFF! played their usual radical set under what looked like basic flood lamps. As usual, Dimitri Coats, Steve McDonald, and Mario Rubalcaba brutalized their axes and drum kit, respectively, like the overqualified hardcore musicians that they are (with collective experience in Burning Brides, Redd Kross, Rocket From The Crypt, Earthless, etc.), while Keith Morris was himself, as well. And as usual, the ex-Black Flag and Circle Jerks singer spieled about the church in Hermosa where first generation L.A. punks hung out and eulogized his best friend Jeffrey Lee Pierce, but this time the unit cranked out new and old brilliant, no-bullshit hardcore cuts to a quarter-filled arena just as they would at a jam-packed record store or free, surprise show relocated from a canceled gig. And this time they weren’t preaching to the converted but kicking the asses of casual Chili Peppers fans who didn’t know where that trucker cap that Anthony is always wearing came from. Awesome.
I have many fond memories of Chili Peppers shows, after going to so many of their hometown gigs (off the top of my head, Fender’s Ballroom, UCLA, CSULB, John Anson Ford, Palladium, and benefits at the old Club 88, The Palace, and City Hall) starting with Freaky Styley and ending on their first arena tour stop at the Sports Arena in support of Blood Sugar Sex Magik with Nirvana opening. It’s hard to convey how anarchic, amazing, and fun those shows were, with equal parts punk rock sloppiness and power and funky heat and energy. To see them not only play as a well-oiled machine 20 years later but to simply survive those years of drug abuse and temporary members (Blackbird McKnight, D.H. Pelligro) is a huge success story. They barely played any of the songs that I know by heart, the oldest being “Me and My Friends” dedicated to Bob Forrest, Chuck Weiss, and other survivors of the L.A. punk scene as well as the kids at Fairfax High who called Flea a “fag.” Besides that, it was Blood Sugar Sex Magik and newer, although the high-tech, on-stage graphics for one song showed a bunch of old-school, photocopied flyers that underscored their common roots with the band that opened for them. (I’m pretty sure I saw the Circle Jerks open for the Chili Peppers at Ackerman Ballroom.)
The entire set was quite rad, but the end was especially awesome. When Josh Klinghoffer came out with a brand-new Dwight Howard Lakers jersey, I was hoping the band would play “Magic Johnson.” I thought it was going to happen with the drum solo that started the encore–and I really dig how a band that started off barely being able to play a set has evolved into an accomplished unit that can jam on a jazz-driven, almost spiritual plane. But even better, they brought out the first and second drummers, Jack Irons and Cliff Martinez, and blasted through “Give It Away” together. The only thing that could cap that off was an impassioned speech by Flea about the importance of live music, how it’s something everyone from little kids to old men can plan, and how it’s the highest form of human creativity that allows humans around the world to communicate and understand each other. (And of course, he backs that up by operating the Silver Lake Conservatory of Music right in my neighborhood.) The Chili Peppers bringing that message and OFF! to a packed Staples Center makes the world a better place.