My dream list of bands to play at Barack Obama’s inauguration in January includes Bad Brains. Why not? They are controversial, they have a huge reputation, and Washington, D.C., is their hometown. They started there as a jazzy funk band in 1977, but two years later they were playing the hardest, fastest punk ever heard.
Back in 1979 Bad Brains were banned, at least unofficially, from performing in D.C. They relocated to New York and a year later released what is credited by some as being the first (and possibly the finest) hardcore record. Consider also that Bad Brains were (and are) an all–Afro-American group with a serious thing for reggae. They blended Rasta mind and punk mind with extreme speed, tight playing, and potent riffs and in so doing produced a style of musical opposites the likes of which hadn’t been heard.
From a political bent, it is also interesting to consider that the Bad Brains of the ’80s were outspoken homophobes. “Don’t blow no bubbles,” H.R. sang in Bad Brains’ most overtly anti-gay work, “Don’t blow no troubles/ There’s got to be a better way/ Don’t blow no spikes.” But bassist Darryl Jenifer told a reviewer a few years ago that they’re not like that anymore.
Politics aside, Bad Brains belongs in the pantheon of punk. You’ll hear their influence on bands from Living Color to Smashing Pumpkins. Subject to internal volatility and many personnel changes, the current touring lineup has come full circle and consists of the founding members: H.R., Jenifer, guitarist Dr. Know, and Earl, the drummer. Never a huge success in terms of sales or radio play, Bad Brains’ listening audience has always been a cultish mass out beyond the fringe. The most obvious of their fans have been the musicians and bands who have gained fame by borrowing from their classic sound over the past three decades.
BAD BRAINS, House of Blues, Sunday, December 7, 7 p.m. 619-299-2583. $22.50.