Off! - Crescent Ballroom - 4/22/2014

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Holy punk rock, Batman!

So, like many of you -- some who have earned it, some who have not -- I am not easily impressed these days. Whether you call it "jaded" or "been there, done that," it really doesn't matter, as long as you call it like you see it, with honesty and conviction. If I can do those things for you, dear reader, it is all good.

So here is what I saw and heard.

Tuesday, April 22, saw Off!, Cerebral Ballzy, and NASA Space Universe bring the awesome sauce to Crescent Ballroom. The cool kids who were there are going to lord this one over you if you weren't, and that's just the way it goes with these types of things. If you sat home and wrote a college paper, for example, you missed out.

See Also: Off! at Crescent Ballroom, 4/22/14 (SLIDESHOW)

The crowd was late arriving, and for the most part, I don't blame y'all because try as they might, the good folks at the Crescent have just not trained us desert folk (yet) that shows can start before 9. If you missed NASA Space Universe (NSU), and many of you did, you missed some seriously good noisy punk rock. Loud, noisy, pissed off, but also eerily thoughtful, they were a kick to the face the crowd was looking for. Fans of bands like Retox, Festival of Dead Deer, and maybe even the Butthole Surfers, will seriously appreciate these guys.

Their drummer, Kevin Hermes, who looked a little like expatriate Valley promoter Will Anderson, drove the band to remarkable peaks and valleys throughout the set as their guitar and bass, masterfully commanded by John Cardwell and Paul Kubacek respectively, drove feedback laden noise to one crescendo after another. Vocalist Kevin Rhea, who I spoke to after they were finished, injured his wrist fairly seriously during the set, but spent most of his time down in the crowd, on one side of the beer fence or the other. Kevin's stream-of-consciousness style vocal attack rarely ceased as NSU rocked through blast after blast of visceral power punk.

It was really cool to see the local crowd of under-21 folk explode from the opening chords of NSU's first song. I turned to my wife and said, "This is going to be a really good show," and luckily for all of us in attendance, I was not wrong. The enthusiasm of the crowd did not wane through the night, although it was a bit odd to watch the amazing goings on near the stage, then turn around and see the bleacher bums sit quietly, and idly, by. I wanted to scream, "Wake up, bleacher-ites, and get your heads in the game. There is history happening here." Cerebral Ballzy was up second, and these New York City kids mean business. They have a new record coming out in July and it was very apparent they were locked and loaded for mayhem. One part NYC cool, one part NYC hardcore, and one part power pop, these boys rock, roll, and rule. Their stage presence alone was worth the modest price of admission this show commanded. Vocalist Honor Titus has the charisma to carry a much larger room than the Crescent, but is as humble off-stage as he is amazing on-stage.

Bassist Mel Honore rolled out several supremely heavy bass lines that kept an undercurrent of "chugga chugga" NYC hardcore that was music to these old ears and based on the response of the rapidly growing crowd, Phoenix enthusiastically approved of the offering. It has been a few years since Cerebral Ballzy graced our presence, but according to Honor, they were digging the energy being given back to the band while they were on stage.

"After we get back from Europe, we're going to be doing a full U.S. tour, so we're hoping to be back really soon," said Honor after their set.

By the time Cerebral Ballzy was finished, the Crescent was fairly packed. The crowd was somewhat of a who's who of Valley music and artistic royalty, which is always cool to be a part of and rub shoulders with while you wait for something you know is going to be seriously cool. Keith Morris, the dreadlocked former lead vocalist of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, merely walked across the stage to find a safe place to stash his backpack and drew a hearty response from the restless audience five minutes before Off! exploded into our collective consciousness with song after song of their perfectly crafted punk fury.

As Off! roared into life, there was nothing to hold them back. Guitar player Dimitri Coats (ex-Burning Brides) has developed into a true purveyor of punk riffage under Morris' tutelage and really kinds of leads the band with his energy as he prowls around his side of the stage. Bassist Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) and drummer Mario Rubacalba (Rocket from the Crypt/Hot Snakes) hold down the rhythm like the master craftsmen they are, all while being two of the coolest dudes you could hope to meet. If there was anything at all to complain about, I can't help feeling Off! could have been louder, although the mix was excellent and every member of the band could be heard. You can't help wondering at the sheer pleasure on the faces of the band as they rip through ferocious punk rock done the way it really should be done. Again, if you missed it, you are one sad mofo, truly.

There is true beauty in being able to attend a show like this. The Crescent is a great venue, for sure, but it would really not have mattered where this show took place. It could have been a living room with a shitty PA and still be amazing. Talking to the bands afterwards, it is clear that everyone involved was stoked to be part of this tour, which is incredibly refreshing. The gents in Off! were super-happy, for example, to talk about how excited they were to have both of the openers on the road with them, almost like proud papas.

Off! was epic. Plain and simple. They chose a couple of kick-ass bands to open for them and for everyone that was there, kudos to you for getting your punk rock fix on a school night. If it was your first time experiencing any of the bands, you were blessed with some rare gems, so go start your own band and then someday you can tell someone like me why you were so inspired.

Critic's Notebook

Last Night: Off!, Cerebral Ballzy, and NASA Space Universe at Crescent Ballroom.

Personal Bias: I love Off!, love the guys in Off!, and believe they play punk the way it was truly meant to be played.

Overheard: "Holy shit!" from numerous people.

Audience: Both old(er) punks and youngsters. It was a veritable who's who of local bands, tattoo artists, and skaters. Lots and lots of smiling faces.

Random Notebook Dump: I bet the guys in Cerebral Ballzy know Lena Dunham (TV's Girls exhibitionist) as they just seem to have NYC cool oozing out of them.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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