The best way to sum up tonight’s gig is to live in the moments just after tonight’s headliners have left the stage. The Exchange’s walls are not dripping sweat they are running with it, like the venue had just sprung a leak (thank heavens we aren’t on the Thekla eh?), the stage too looks like it’s just held a heavyweight boxing match that’s gone the full 12 rounds, and all around me my fellow punters look positively shell shocked as we amble out into the cold night air.

There was part of me that wanted to send RPM pics of the sodden stage and drenched walls and leave it at that, but then you wouldn’t get the context, and with OFF! it’s always all about the context.

But let’s start at the beginning, and Washington D.C based duo Teen Mortgage who are opening for OFF! on this short run of UK shows. They’ve also just been announced as the opening act for Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer’s 2024 enormodome tour here in the UK, so they are obviously a band going places. And to my ears at least, that place is somewhere around the dawn of the 1990s, as their fuzzed-out brand of sub pop draws on equal parts Sabbath and the Stooges just like most of the US bands that graced the cover of the NME and Sounds did back then. Teen Mortgage’s members weren’t even born back then though, so it’s probably only older bastards like me who will feel the need to make these comparisons, and to their credit they do quickly turn The Exchange’s (at the time) ice-cold live room into one that is at least warm enough for me to take my beanie off. It’s just I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve seen this done many times before and it all kind of reminded me of noughties UK trio The Zico Chain, only they had more instantly memorable songs. Perhaps it was the prospect of what was about to follow that meant Teen Mortgage caught me with my gig guard fully up tonight, but I do wish them well, whatever happens next for them.

My guard was up because with OFF! you can never really predict anything; I mean who would have ever thought that after three jaw stinging LPs packed full of short sharp punk rock punches that their fourth record, released just over a year ago now, would not only contain some of the heaviest music known to humanity, but also free form jazz segues? And whilst the latter (in its truest sense) is nowhere to be found tonight, as the band quietly amble onto the stage and frontman Keith Morris unfurls a set list that extends the full height of the PA’s side fills and to his left guitarist Dimitri Coats begins to unleash some truly bizarre sounds from a box of electronic tricks he has tucked away side stage whilst bassist Autry Fulbright II and (returning) drummer Mario Rubalcaba start to limber up by tinkering away of their respective instruments, you do get the feeling that the sense of musical adventure contained within that record is still very much alive within this most exhilarating of punk rock bands.

It’s only when the full force of ‘Slice Up The Pie’ hits me straight in the chest that the gig really takes off though and for the next hour or so we are all taken on a whirlwind adventure, initially through the pysch punk delights of the aforementioned ‘Free LSD’ LP before a selection of (I think) nine older songs really do take the roof off the place. It’s intense and mind bending at times, especially during album number four’s title track, but by equal measure tracks from that record like ‘War Above Los Angeles’ and ‘Worst Is Yet To Come’ stand as some of Dimitri Coats and Keith Morris’ best work to date. Yes, I’d have loved to have seen Justin Brown working his drum magic on said tunes tonight but make no mistake, Mario totally owns these twisted beauties too. Likewise, during the older songs played tonight, the looming lanky presence of one Steven McDonald is always going to be missed on the bass, but once again my beanie is off for what Autry does whilst playing these brutal beasts with his fingers and not a plectrum. Insanely talented each and every one of them.

At times you could be forgiven for thinking that someone on OFF!’s crew has half-inched one of the Concorde engines from the nearby Patchway museum, hotwired it and stuck a microphone straight into its boom, such is the transonic quality of the band in the here and now. It’s no easy night out that’s for sure but isn’t that really what has always been at the heart of what punk rock has always been about?

See what I mean about context now? Tonight was totally OFF! the scale, make no mistakes.

Author: Johnny Hayward

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