Review: Bad Brains mix punk, reggae and rock at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg
They say depressants and stimulants do not mix well. I tend to disagree after watching the Bad Brains show Tuesday night at the State Theatre.
Fans packed a humid Central Avenue in St. Pete and shuffled their way into a night full of punk, fusion rock, and reggae. Three bands, Man Made, Birdhand, and Bad Brains, made for an awesome mix of talent.
And don’t get me wrong. I am not calling reggae “depressing.” Far from it. I could only put into words how a packed crowd can go from reggae head-nodding, to balls-out punk slamming, I would consider myself a scholar. I’ve not seen anything like it, and Bad Brains is one of the only bands you can count on for such a variety in musical reference. They are literally two bands in one.
Vocalist and Bad Brains founder H.R. (Paul Hudson) has the most unique stage presence I have seen. First off, his outfit for the night was Gumby-like, a fuzzy green pajama jumpsuit and a beanie. His calm and reserved demeanor was equivalent to a morning brunch at a high end restaurant. No shouting. No outbursts. Whether performing a reggae song, or in punk mode, H.R. remained at ease. Lead guitarist Dr. Know and bass guitarist Darryl Jenifer were the high-energy presence of the night. Combined with Earl Hudson’s hard-hitting drumming, the four Bad Brains members took control of the stage.
They played a long set. The crowd went nuts and, as expected, the swirl of the moshpit exploded during the opening song. The crowd didn’t want to stop, and I think I even saw some shoving and pushing when Bad Brains went into reggae mode. It was interesting to see, actually. You could tell the hardcore crowd wanted the heavy to stay, but most of the old-school fans welcomed the change of scenery.
H.R.’s voice was low. I am not sure if it was a sound issue, or just his mood, but the vocals were hard to hear during a lot of the show. While the reggae tunes allowed for this, when things got heavy they were almost nonexistent. And while I don’t think it took away from the show, it really added to their personality. Where else are you going to find four African-American men in their 50s playing hardcore '80s punk mixed with true reggae? This is the only place! They can do what they want on stage.
The opening acts were interesting and a good introduction for the night. Man Made was up first, and provided a short but interesting set. What I loved about this St. Pete band was the two-drummer arrangement. It’s not something I see often, and it isn’t difficult to make the sound fit. They did a good job and the two drummers were pretty tight together. Their musical style is borderline instrumental, with occasional vocals and gutteral screams.
Second up was Birdhand, from Santa Cruz, Calif. Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains is currently listed as their manager, so I think this is a mutual touring agreement benefitting both bands. Birdhand is a mix of southern rock, fusion rock, and maybe even a little indie rock thrown in the mix. Interesting guitar antics included guitarist Christopher Holcomb using a bow to strum various rhythms, giving his guitar a ghostly whine that any horror flick would be proud to capture.
This show was a success, and I hope that Bad Brains continues to march on into success. Rumor has it they are currently working on a new release, and we should get some new material from them soon. With their roots and history so deep into the punk genre, I think that should be an easy accomplishment.
— Review/photos by Andrew Carlton, tbt*