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updated: 7/13/2011 12:46 PM

Punk band OFF! set to rock Pitchfork

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  • The California punk band OFF!, which includes members of Black Flag and Redd Kross, will play Pitchfork on Saturday.

      The California punk band OFF!, which includes members of Black Flag and Redd Kross, will play Pitchfork on Saturday.

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  • Veteran indie-rock heroes TV on the Radio are one of the Pitchfork headliners.

      Veteran indie-rock heroes TV on the Radio are one of the Pitchfork headliners.

  • Music fans will find a variety of old and new acts at Pitchfork.

      Music fans will find a variety of old and new acts at Pitchfork.
    courtesy of Francis Chung

  • Alt-country singer-songwriter Neko Case will perform at Pitchfork this weekend.

      Alt-country singer-songwriter Neko Case will perform at Pitchfork this weekend.

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  • Fleet Foxes, the moody rockers from the Pacific Northwest, will headline the Pitchfork Music Festival this weekend.

      Fleet Foxes, the moody rockers from the Pacific Northwest, will headline the Pitchfork Music Festival this weekend.

  • Music fans will find a variety of old and new acts at Pitchfork.

      Music fans will find a variety of old and new acts at Pitchfork.
    courtesy of Francis Chung

 
 

The Pitchfork Music Festival has become known for lineups that mix veteran acts with new up-and-comers.

One of the bands playing this year's festival -- the punk-rock outfit OFF! -- represents both sides of the equation.

OFF! is a new band, having formed in California a little more than a year ago. Its members, though, are rock-industry veterans with roots in the West Coast hardcore scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Vocalist Keith Morris sang with hardcore pioneers Black Flag and then formed The Circle Jerks; bassist Steven McDonald helped found alternative-rock band Redd Kross; guitarist Dimitri Coats is the frontman of Burning Brides; and drummer Mario Rubalcaba has played with a number of bands, including Rocket From the Crypt and Hot Snakes.

Together, as OFF!, the four deliver a visceral, spiky brand of punk that sounds like both a throwback to the old West Coast days and something entirely new.

"I think the bottom line is that the music is real, it's authentic," McDonald said in a phone interview from his California home. "That's what people are responding to."

Morris decided to form OFF! after efforts to create a new Circle Jerks record, with Coats as producer, fizzled out. Morris and Coats retooled a number of songs they'd been working on for the project and recruited McDonald and Rubalcaba for the new band. Morris and Coats also wrote a batch of brand new songs.

The band's debut album, "The First Four EPs" (Vice), came out late last year as a box set of 7-inch vinyl discs. It's now available on CD and as a digital download.

The record's 16 songs scream by in less than 18 minutes. Morris, his voice veering from singing to shouting and then back again, spits out lyrics full of anger, disdain and anxiety.

"I can't stop thinking black thoughts!" he shouts in the 60-second opener (titled, appropriately enough, "Black Thoughts"). On the track "Killing Away," he bemoans humans' collective inability to leave violence behind: "We keep on repeating the past!"

Despite their brevity, the tracks on "The First Four EPs" give Coats, McDonald and Rubalcaba a bit of room to swing. The songs are propulsive, sometimes even tuneful.

Indie-rock cognoscenti like the Pitchfork and Stereogum websites have raved about OFF!, and the band has been greeted by enthusiastic crowds at shows.

"It's definitely exceeded all my expectations," McDonald said of the record's reception. "I mean, we're not sitting on a multiplatinum seller, obviously, but it's definitely been a success for us."

OFF!'s music has reminded many punk fans of hardcore's glory days 30 years ago. (The record cover was created by renowned artist Raymond Pettibon, known for his work with Black Flag back in the day.)

McDonald is no exception.

He was just 11 years old when he and his brother founded Redd Kross in 1978, and he remembers sharing rehearsal space with Morris and Black Flag in Hermosa Beach, Calif.

"When I first listened to the OFF! stuff, it was like this real moment of sense memory for me," he said. "I was right back in that smelly, moldy church we rehearsed in."

But OFF! isn't a nostalgia act, McDonald said.

"I don't think there'd be much point to the band if we were just mimicking old stuff," he said. "Keith and Dimitri know that. There's something so honest and raw about these songs that's really inspiring."

OFF! has a 4:45 p.m. Saturday slot at this weekend's Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. The band has already performed at other big festivals, including South By Southwest and Coachella, and will play a series of dates in Europe later this summer.

Though he's been in rock 'n' roll now for more than 30 years, making music hasn't gotten old for McDonald. Still, he acknowledges that the lifestyle can be a bit draining these days.

"I'm 44 years old, and I'm one of three fathers in the band," he said. "We all have other priorities, other responsibilities in our lives. So yeah, it's more complicated now when we're planning a tour or whatever.

"But when it comes to the actual job, making music and playing it, that's still very rewarding for me. I mean, I've devoted my life to it. And when things are good, I know I'm the luckiest guy in the world."

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