Honestly, I was too young to have seen them in their highly romanticized 1979-1983 period, but being the sort who refused to be cheated from his own significance by the knobs who insisted that I'd "missed it all", I made due with the band's 1986 "I Against I" LP. Well, I liked the opening montage of "Intro" and how it bled seamlessly into the album's monster title track, at any rate. [Click here to stream Real Audio or click here to stream Windows Media Player video]
Aside from that, my 1986 skateboard-totin' keister was relatively unimpressed, as I was with the band's live set in support of said album. Their customary stop at Trenton's City Gardens nightclub sometime that summer left me cold and wanting for the sorta blitzkrieg jams they'd first made themselves known with.
Before this goes any further, let me assure you all that I'm well-aware of the sacrilegious territory I'm currently dancing on. Using terms like "unimpressed" in association with mid-80s Bad Brains is culturally akin to doing the mambo in the moshpit, so maybe I can better express what I mean by calling them "compelling, but frustrating." The band I saw live were operating on only 70% energy, and seemed fueled by way too many dressing room retreats for massive smokeouts. The "I Against I" album opened with a terse blast of visceral fury, but then became a plodding and wonky excursion into
what I then deemed "prog-metal". My cranium had no time for that, Jack.
Fast forward a million years. Bad Brains (in the incarnation that I understood them) have gone the way of the woolly mammoth, there's a CBGB "boutique" on St. Mark's Place (but no actual club with that name anywhere in the city), and Flipper is playing after-parties for slick documentaries about the American hardcore punk scene. For whatever reason -- age, different points of reference, late-blooming crappy taste -- those wonky "I Against I" deep cuts sound utterly revelatory to me now. I'm not talking about "Sacred Love", which always fell into the quasi-cool category if only for H.R.'s recorded-over-the-phone-from-jail vocals, or "Re-Ignition", which at least had a chuggy guitar sound... No, I'm referencing the REAL no-man's land tracks of the album. "Hired Gun"... "Return to Heaven"... "She's Calling You". [Click any title to stream Real Audio from the WFMU archives] You get the idea. Or maybe you always loved this album from back to front. John Allen? Tony Rettman? Martha? Can I get an Amen?