[View more photos of the good, the fun and the grotesque in Timothy Norris' slideshow “Sunset Junction 2010: Day One with Ghostland Observatory, Bad Brains and more.”]
After the hyper ska of brethren Fishbone, Bad Brains' headlining set on Saturday at the Sunset Junction Street Fair felt, at times, more like a big come down than a big takeover.
The classicl lineup of frontman H.R., bassist Darryl Jenifer, guitarist Dr. Know and drummer Earl Hudson have been fusing rock and dub for more than three decades. But if you're on the hardcore side of the fence, you obviously prefer a lot more rage and a lot less reggae.
Unfortunately, Bad Brains' suspended mellowness wasn't entirely what fans were hoping for, even in their most herb-induced stupor. The band's not interested in recreating your father's punk rock of spit, scabs and safety pins. They're strictly good vibes now, especially H.R. — aka Human Rights, nee Hunting Rod — who, at 54, isn't exactly summoning the stage fury of the old days.
Instead, he's all maximum respect, peace signs and praying hands, calling us brothers and sisters and “Selassie's children,” and wearing a beanie over a long white towel that kept falling off. Don't worry, he had a handler who helped place it back on. Jah provides. At one point, he looked like he was even reprimanding an audience member. Why he felt the need to pull out his wallet, though, only Jah knows.
For a punk singer, H.R. has a vocal range that can rival any chest-thumping balladeer's, going from spastic, rapid-fire machine gun to downright beautiful, especially on a reggae gem like “I and I Survive.” Thankfully, the guys had the, uh, brains to stick to much of their self-titled first album — the hardest of hardcore records — from the oft-covered “Sailin' On” to the positive mental “Attitude” to show closer and Bad Brains' first single, “Pay to Cum.”
H.R. called the stomping “Right Brigade” “listening music” urging the audience to listen while pointing to his ears. That's not easy to do when you're pushing and shoving. But the band's decision to leap from their 1982 debut to a few tracks off 2007's excellent Adam Yauch-produced Build a Nation meant curiously omitting the epic I Against I. No “Banned in D.C.,” either. Again, refer to almighty.
The sizable mosh pit and half-dozen crowd divers jumping off the bus stop sign didn't seem too fazed. They were probably also looking to work off the gastronomical gross-out that is street fair food. How low can a punk get? By eating an Italian sausage that can double as a night stick, that's how low.