Music Review: Henry Rollins regales audience with rockin’ rants

  • Henry Rollins, whoo performed Friday at the Academy of Music in Northampton. Getty Images/facebook

For the Gazette
Published: 10/31/2016 1:50:47 PM

By JAKE JOHNSON

You might call Henry Rollins a Renaissance Man; at a concert Friday at the Academy of Music in Northampton, he demonstrated what his fans already know: He is, indeed, a man of many talents.

Rollins, who rose to fame in the 1980s as a member of the hardcore punk band Black Flag, has reinvented himself any number of times since that group’s demise in 1986. Now, years removed from that music, he has mastered new kinds of entertainment: he’s a musician, an actor, a TV and radio host, and a comedian.

And on Friday, he proved he’s also one heckuva storyteller.

Rollins can rightly claim the title of comedian (at Friday’s show, everyone was laughing), and though I don’t know if he’d say he’s a self-help coach, everything he said at the concert had the ring of solid words of advice. And, while the show was billed as a spoken-word concert — not rock ‘n’ roll — Rollins, at 55, performed at the highest decibels, just like the old-time punk rocker he is.

Promptly at 8 p.m., the house lights dimmed at the Academy, and Rollins strode onstage and gave a curt, quick bow. From the moment he opened his mouth, the theater’s sound system roared. (The woman sitting next to me joked, “Where’s the mosh pit?”)

Speaking across topics and genres, Rollins entertained the packed-house crowd of mostly middle-aged couples by recounting his travels, ruminating about American history, and meeting his own musical idols. Every story he told had highlights of humor, moments of truth and elements of life-advice — each delivered in his signature style: continuous rant.

“I like raised voices,” he told us. “I like confrontation. It keeps my blood thin.”

He spent a half hour haranguing Donald Trump and the whole U.S. election process. Somehow he transitioned from there into spending the day with actor and entertainer RuPaul. For the last quarter of the show, Rollins, like a fanatic himself, gushed about his idols, especially those who have died this past year, such as David Bowie and Lemmy from Motörhead.

At the top of the performance, only a few minutes in, Rollins halted the stream of consciousness and asked why an audience member was standing up. The crowd laughed, but he waited, staring daggers for minutes as the man found his seat again. Rollins then launched back into his story.

In many ways, this show was a far cry from the performances Rollins gave as a member of Black Flag, when he was the skinny kid screaming and running around the stage. Yes, he still rants, and shouts and gesticulates wildly, but these days, Rollins’ home is squarely center stage, where he stands, four speakers at his feet.

The stage was full of contrasts: Rollins’ white hair and all-black clothes, the dark curtains and the pale lights, the stationary performer and his huge, echoing voice. The only remnants of punk in that building were the leather jackets on adults pushing 60, yet here they were, enjoying their punk rock idol in a whole new arena.

A highlight was definitely Rollins’ humor, and to the audience’s delight, Rollins shouted his messages of positive energy at the crowd for close to three hours. Despite promises to the contrary, he seemed always to have one more story, one more joke, one more thought. He calls them his “pivots.”

“Let’s keep the music on forever,” Rollins said in the middle of one rant. “Everyone is better when listening to music.”

I listened to my first Black Flag album just a month ago, yet by 11 p.m., I felt like I had been a Rollins fans for a couple of decades. If you get a chance to see him (you probably will, he’s always on the road), make sure you catch Rollins’ next tour.

You might call Henry Rollins a Renaissance Man; at a concert Friday at the Academy of Music in Northampton, he demonstrated what his fans already know: He is, indeed, a man of many talents.

Rollins, who rose to fame in the 1980s as a member of the hardcore punk band Black Flag, has reinvented himself any number of times since that group’s demise in 1986. Now years removed from that music, he has mastered new kinds of entertainment: he’s a musician, an actor, a TV and radio host, and a comedian.

And on Friday, he proved he’s also one heckuva storyteller.

Rollins can rightly claim the title of comedian (at Friday’s show, everyone was laughing), and though I don’t know if he’d say he’s a self-help coach, everything he said at Friday’s concert had the ring of solid words of advice. And, while the show was billed as a spoken-word concert — not rock ‘n’ roll — Rollins, at 55, was performing at the highest of decibels, just like the old-time punk rocker he is.

Promptly at 8 p.m., the house lights dimmed at the Academy, and Rollins strode onstage and gave a curt, quick bow, and from the moment he opened his mouth, the theater’s sound system roared. (The woman sitting next to me joked, “Where’s the mosh pit?”)

Speaking across topics and genres, Rollins entertained the packed-house crowd of mostly middle-aged couples by recounting his travels, ruminating about American history, and meeting his own musical idols. Every story he told had highlights of humor, moments of truth and elements of life-advice — each delivered in his signature style: continuous rant.

“I like raised voices,” he told us. “I like confrontation. It keeps my blood thin.”

In many ways, this show was a far cry from the performances Rollins gave as a member of Black Flag, when he was the skinny kid screaming and running around the stage. Yes, he still rants, and shouts and gesticulates wildly, but these days, Rollins’ home is squarely center stage, where he stands, four speakers at his feet.

A highlight was definitely Rollins’ humor, and to the audience’s delight, Rollins shouted his messages of positive energy at the crowd for close to three hours. Despite promises to the contrary, he seemed always to have one more story, one more joke, one more thought. He calls them his “pivots.”

“Let’s keep the music on forever,” Rollins said in the middle of one rant. “Everyone is better when listening to music.”

I listened to my first Black Flag album just a month ago, yet by 11 p.m., I felt like I had been a Rollins fans for a couple of decades. If you get a chance to see him (you probably will, he’s always on the road), make sure you catch Rollins’ next tour.




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