10 great ’80s hardcore live videos to watch now
This quarantine-friendly edition of 'In Defense of the Genre' features 10 killer videos of legendary '80s hardcore bands in their prime, along with an accompanying playlist.
With quarantine keeping us all home a lot more and stopping almost all concerts from happening, I've been doing themed, live-video editions of my punk column 'In Defense of the Genre' to help shine a light on some of the incredible punk concert footage that's out there and reminisce on some great bands in the process. I recently did a '90s punk edition and a modern hardcore edition, and this new one is dedicated entirely to '80s hardcore.
I picked ten videos, spanning from early pioneers like Minor Threat, Black Flag, and Minor Threat to bands who pushed the genre forward in the mid '80s like Dag Nasty to bands who ended the decade on an extremely high note like Gorilla Biscuits. Ten is just a very small sample size of how much incredible classic hardcore footage is out there, but I'll keep doing these roundups as long as quarantine is in effect so there's probably plenty of time to pick at least ten more of these as the days and weeks and months go by. For now, enjoy these ten, all of which are super fun to watch and all of which remind me how lucky we are to have historic footage like this at our fingertips.
Read on for my list, in chronological order. And in case 10 full-set live videos isn’t enough '80s hardcore for you, I also put together a quarantine playlist, featuring music from all 10 of these bands plus others from the era. You can hear that at the bottom of this post.
Dead Kennedys @ Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco - CA 2/9/80
So many classic punk bands have reunited their classic lineups in recent years, but one we're still holding out for is Dead Kennedys to get back with Jello Biafra, who hasn't fronted the band since 1986. He's the kind of charismatic frontman that you really can't replace, and this video is one of the many documents that proves it. Not only does his voice sound as maniacal as it does on the albums, but he looks as punk as possible in his homemade "FUCK THE DRAFT" shirt and he's bouncing around the stage like a madman for the entirety of this set. The setlist is unbeatable too -- this was filmed in 1980 before the band's debut album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables came out, and they did just about every song you'd wanna hear from that record (plus early b-side "The Man with the Dogs," and "Halloween" which wouldn't come out until 1982). It doesn't get much better than this.
Misfits in Bethlehem, PA - 10/31/82
I think the jury's still out on whether or not the Misfits truly count as "hardcore," but especially as they neared the end of their original run as a band, they were pretty hardcore, and this video is no exception. It's the second to last of their annual Halloween shows (the following year's Halloween show was the show they broke up at), they opened with "Halloween" (naturally), and this grainy black and white video makes the whole thing look like one of Glenn's beloved old horror flicks. The band seems like they were playing every song twice as fast as usual, Glenn is flailing his body around, Jerry is flinging his bass in the air, and the whole show just looks totally out of control in the best way. The band's reunion show at MSG last year was pretty amazing, but it wasn't like this.
Bad Brains @ CBGB - December 1982
The same year Bad Brains released their now-legendary self-titled debut album, they played three nights at CBGB, and footage from those nights was captured for this concert film. I am too young to have seen the Bad Brains in this era, and the one time I did see them (which was a few years ago), HR was pretty reserved on stage, so it's especially amazing for someone like me to see him going absolutely insane during this era of the band. Darryl Jenifer, Dr. Know, and Earl Hudson were just about as wild as HR, and the crowd was in constant motion too. I try not to get too jealous of people who saw the shows I couldn't have seen, but man, it's hard to watch this video and not want to jump right into that crowd.
Minor Threat @ 9:30 Club in Washington, DC - 6/23/83
It's wild to think about how much Minor Threat achieved with just a three-year career, and it's also wild to think they broke up the same year they were putting on totally life-affirming shows like this one. The 9:30 Club is packed, bodies are flying, the band sounds super tight, and Ian MacKaye is going nuts and totally owning the relentless crowd. (He must not have hated moshing at this point as much as he did in Fugazi.) Every song is so fast, and Ian's screams sound genuinely throat-shredding in a way we'll probably never hear from him again. And absolutely nothing about this has aged a bit. Even watching it in 2020, it looks like a show you could've went to last year.
Agent Orange @ The Music Machine in Los Angeles, CA - 11/10/83
The highly underrated Agent Orange brought a surf rock guitar influence to hardcore that helped them stand out from the growing pack of hardcore bands, and their more melodic side proved to be very influential on the '90s mainstream punk boom. (It's hard to imagine, say, The Offspring, who covered "Bloodstains," sounding the way they did without Agent Orange's influence.) Their 1981 debut album Living in Darkness sounds about ten years ahead of its time, and as this video proves, Agent Orange were a pretty great live band in that era too. Mike Palm's voice sounds great, and the band is as hard-hitting as you'd hope.
Black Flag @ The Stone in San Francisco, CA - 8/26/84
A good process for weeding out purist punk fans who don't want to see you branch out from minute-and-a-half, three-chord songs would be to open a show with the instrumental, avant-garde and jazz-inspired "The Process of Weeding Out," and that's just what this long-haired version of Black Flag did in 1984, the year they released three albums that found Black Flag exploring psychedelia, metal, jazz, spoken word, and all kinds of other sounds that would've been out of the question on Nervous Breakdown. Henry Rollins, Greg Ginn, Kira Roessler, and Bill Stevenson did play "Nervous Breakdown" right after that, and over the course of the rest of the night, they bounced back and forth between the more adventurous then-new songs like "Can't Decide," "Slip It In," "Black Coffee," "My War," "Nothing Left Inside," "Rat's Eyes," and more, and earlier classics like "Six Pack," "Jealous Again," and "Fix Me." Lucky for us, this show was captured with excellent audio and video quality, and it really gives you a great look at what Black Flag were all about in this monumental year of their career. '84 was not only so prolific, but it was -- for my money -- the best year of Rollins-era Black Flag. They were still doing highly spirited renditions of the early stuff, the groundbreaking new stuff sounds killer, and they hadn't started going totally over the edge with their self-indulgence and inner-band hatred yet.
7Seconds in 1984 & 1985
When American hardcore was starting out, there were strong scenes in DC, LA, NYC, Boston, Texas, the Midwest, and a few other places, but one of the most important bands came from a city that wasn't necessarily a prominent hub for this kind of stuff: Reno, Nevada. That band was 7Seconds, who started out in the early '80s and had released the immortal classics The Crew and Walk Together, Rock Together by 1984 and 1985, respectively. This video features great footage from that era (the YouTube description says it compiles three different shows), and it's pretty incredible that we're able to have this documentation of the band's heyday to watch and rewatch over three decades later. 7Seconds' melodic, positive hardcore style helped pave the way for NYC's youth crew bands (and, in turn, many of the post-hardcore and pop punk bands who got big in the '90s and '00s), and those classic records haven't aged a bit. This thrilling footage of Kevin Seconds and the kids in the crowd all going nuts together is just as timeless.
Dag Nasty @ 9:30 Club in Washington, DC - 1985
Brian Baker would be a hardcore legend for life thanks to his time in Minor Threat alone, but he kept reinventing himself, and with Dag Nasty, he helped pioneer a more melodic style of hardcore that would influence countless post-hardcore and emo bands for years to come. My favorite era of the band is the Can I Say era, which had Dave Smalley on vocals, but 1. we actually recently posted a Smalley-era video and I wanted to do something different, and 2. Dag Nasty wrote most of Can I Say with Shawn Brown (later of Swiz) on vocals and the Shawn Brown versions of those songs are great in their own right. (Their early recordings finally saw the light of day with the 2010 release of Dag With Shawn, and the band's great recent reunion shows have been with Shawn too.) As much as Dag Nasty favored melodic guitars and choruses you could hum along to, they were still an aggressive band, and this footage does a great job of showing just how much of a force they could be.
Youth of Today @ The Anthrax in Norwalk, CT - 1988
The original hardcore era had peaked by the mid 1980s -- with a lot of the classic bands either broken up or heading in less appealing directions -- but New York's youth crew movement really brought the genre back to its roots, and some of the very best hardcore of the decade came from these bands. And the band initially leading this movement was Youth of Today. The band recently reunited their classic We're Not In This Alone era lineup of Ray Cappo, Porcell, Walter Schreifels, and Sammy Siegler, and those shows were genuinely awesome, but here's a look at that lineup the year We're Not In This Alone came out (at the legendary Anthrax in Connecticut, where Porcell had started going to shows as a kid before he ever went to CBGB). As energetic as they still are today, they were even more nuts when they were, you know, actually youths, and this video finds both the band and crowd in expectedly wild form.
Gorilla Biscuits @ Country Club in Reseda, CA - 7/31/89
Youth of Today paved the way for the youth crew attitude and sound, but Walter Schreifels (who was a huge YOT fan before joining the band) brought it to new heights with the band where he was the primary songwriter, Gorilla Biscuits. Like Youth of Today, GB are currently reunited and they remain one of the best hardcore bands you can see today (well, before coronavirus I mean). Still, there's nothing like watching this much younger version of the band the year Start Today came out. They look and sound as tight as they do on that immortal record, and the kids doing front flips into the crowd only makes this piece of history look even more badass.
10 full-set concerts not enough to occupy your quarantined time? Keep the theme going with this ’80s hardcore/punk quarantine playlist…
Check out much more recent photos of Gorilla Biscuits and Bad Brains: