Most punky bands don’t have any trouble squeezing 15 songs into a 35-minute set. But that wasn’t the issue for Off!, the Southern California sorta-supergroup that performed Thursday night at a nearly packed Red Palace. Since all its tunes last less than 90 seconds, the quartet had to stretch its show with something other than slamdance-sparking retro-punk.
Aside from one acid-rock guitar solo, which may have lasted a full minute, the burden fell on frontman Keith Morris. A veteran of the Circle Jerks and Black Flag — Off! is his second band named for a brand of bug spray — Morris quickly established the evening’s stop-start structure. He began by taking several minutes to introduce the other musicians and their accomplishments: guitarist Dimitri Coats, of the Burning Brides; drummer Mario Rubalcaba, who’s played with Hot Snakes, Rocket from the Crypt and other groups; and bassist Steven McDonald, who has spent three-quarters of his life in Redd Kross. Only after this prologue did the group roar into its first selection.
The subsequent performance at the H Street NE club was divided into mini-sets, usually of three songs, linked by guitar doodles or spiderwebs of feedback. Between these outbursts, which featured such indignant numbers as “Poison City’’ and “Upside Down,’’ Morris would chat. His reflections on “the government’’ (bad) and dead friends (missed) resembled a less organized version of the monologues of Henry Rollins, who replaced Morris in Black Flag some 30 years ago. Off!’s approach might have been designed to conserve Morris’s energy — he admitted to being 55 — or because a 17-minute set could have turned the enthusiastic crowd less friendly.
When he did sing, Morris sounded much like his youthful self: full-throated and still in command of the declamatory bellow that influenced scores of ’80s-punk vocalists. The band was tighter than any of the early hard-core outfits, although the musicians rarely used their expanded skills to impress. For all their vigor, the songs were as basic as the sentiments expressed by Morris’s breakneck elegy to Gun Club founder Jeffrey Lee Pierce. The chorus of that one went, “Jeffrey Lee Pierce! Jeffrey Lee Pierce!’’
Jenkins is a freelance writer.