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December 12, 2006

Concert film shows why Brains are the baddest

One day, when I was bored, I thought about the most frequent questions I have been asked while doing interviews for The Glasspack.A popular question has been: Who is the greatest punk rock band of all time?I’m not a big fan of categories. I believe everything is rock ’n’ roll. That said, this is the way the American music industry and press run their business. But if I have to answer such a lame question, there is really only one band.Bad Brains.The funny thing that occurred to me is that without hesitation, I always answered that question with the same two words, Bad Brains. So, in boredom, I decided to try to understand why.I won’t lie to you and say that I like all Bad Brains music. I am mostly fond of the days when they played 1,000 miles an hour. After that, my interest fades away.I had never seen early Bad Brains footage until the band’s DVD, “Live in ’82 at CBGB’s,” was released. My opinion that Bad Brains is the shit was purely based on sound and feeling. This was only enhanced by the concert footage.What amazes me the most is the underdog side of the Brains, the fact that they were, like Hendrix, playing primarily to a young Caucasian audience and with a lot of Caucasian acts. But, like Hendrix, they clearly showed they could be just as powerful, if not stronger.They also took reggae and mixed it with the rock, a combination that could have easily turned out bad. As a fan of reggae, I can say that Bad Brains could hold their own in the reggae department. They are truly a unique, versatile, creative band with the greatest power of all: the power to express the need for unity against “the man” through music.I don’t think the Ramones, Sex Pistols, G.G. Allin or any other so-called punk rock band could even hold a candle to the spirit of Bad Brains in the early years. As Lester Bangs once said, the only band that could possibly surpass this power of expression was the MC5, which you could assume Bad Brains admired.Bad Brains were probably smart enough to figure out that Detroit is the epicenter of punk rock, not England. Again, and this is an underdog thing, Detroit was far away from the popular coastal music scenes.Bad Brains could have easily been the dirtiest band ever to take the stage. I thought I saw bugs flying out of H.R.’s hair on the box set footage! They were completely anti-fashion, while at the same time occupying their own niche. No, you’d never see the Bad Brains wearing the typical emo tight pants or punk/metal leather jacket, because they were lucky enough to have a pants or a jacket at all. You ever noticed how much homelessness and unemployment exist in Washington, D.C.?For those of you who are not familiar with Bad Brains, it’s your loss to go through life without witnessing — whether live, on screen or on tape — a great band playing against such high odds. They were not just a “punk rock” band. They were one of the greatest musical acts of all time. Next question? Dave Johnson sings and plays guitar for The Glasspack. Contact him at leo@leoweekly.com