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Watch Bad Brains play their first Philly show on Christmas, 1981
Live music on Christmas is typically something of a dead zone here in Philadelphia. This year, with Christmas falling on a Monday — already the slowest concert day of the week — it’s particularly vacant. What to do? Cue up this YouTube video and pretend you’re in the year 1981, in the sweaty crowd packing Philadelphia’s legendary punk rock hot spot East Side Club on 1229 Chestnut Street, revved up and ready to see D.C. trailblazers Bad Brains make their Philadelphia debut on Christmas day.
The band had been around for four years at that point, but this show predated their 1982 self-titled album — their only release up to this point was the 7″ single for “Pay to Cum.” The setlist, though, mixes music that would wind up on that iconic debut, as well as several that would not be heard on record until 1983’s Rock For Light.
The first ten minutes are an aggressive hardcore frenzy, with vocalist H.R. franticly pacing the edge of the stage, howling into the front row, while guitarist Dr. Know shreds away at stage right. Five songs in, the mood mellows with “Rally Round Jah Throne” and its atmospheric reggae. That’s how the set alternates from there, with hardcore ragers like “Right Brigade” and “Banned In D.C.” sitting alongside the contemplative dub tones of “The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth” or the untitled jam that falls in the setlist’s penulitimate slot. Which, pretty much, is the balance Bad Brains struck in their storied career.
Give this piece of Philly music scene history a watch and check out the setlist below.
Banned in D.C.
Fearless Vampire Killers (F.V.K.)
Rally Round Jah Throne
Pay to Cum
Meek Shall Inherit the Earth
We Will Not
Living in the Movies