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H.R. Brings the Spirit of Bad Brains to The Doll Hut

H.R. with Downtown Brown backstage at World Famous Doll Hut. Photo by Scott Feinblatt

The World Famous Doll Hut is a small venue, but it’s got good juju. On Friday night, the Doll Hut hosted an enormous line-up of bands — most of whose styles were significantly influenced by the music of legendary punk / metal / reggae group Bad Brains. Thus, for these bands, it was a blessing that the evening’s headliner was none other than Bad Brains’ singer H.R. (Paul Hudson), who was in the middle of an exclusive, six-performance, West Coast tour with Downtown Brown as his backing band.

In order to coordinate the nine-act-lineup within the space of six hours, a second (and larger) stage was erected in the Doll Hut parking lot. Then, at 7:25 pm, the tightly coordinated acts began, on the diminutive indoor stage, with a performance by Not A Chance. At 8:00, Infirmities got things started in the parking lot. It was sometime during the next indoor act, Los Nauticals, that this reporter strolled in — after having photographed another epic Anaheim event, WonderCon — and was overtaken by the hybrid sounds of grooving, thrashing, and two-stepping music that dominated the stylings of most of the evening’s bands.

Los Nauticals at World Famous Doll Hut. Photo by Scott Feinblatt

While the size of the bands ranged from three to six performers, the commonality of Bad Brains’ direct or indirect influence was evident for most of them, as was their respective passion for their own work. While Hoi Polloi (Southern California) was rocking the outdoor stage, the daily Disney fireworks show lit up the not-too-distant sky. People who were not drinking inside the Doll Hut gathered around the stage, browsed the various merch tables in the parking lot, or walked across S. Adams St. to patronize the Taco La Jerezana food truck, which welcomed them beneath the flourescent street lamps.

After a satisfying set, on the indoor stage, by H.B.H., whose music was infused with some of the most satisfyingly psychedelic guitar licks I’d yet heard this evening, everything changed with the performance of Downtown Brown. I’d had the pleasure of experiencing their show one time previously, when they opened for The Adicts at House of Blues, Anaheim. Those familiar with their music know that their style does not fit so neatly in with the aesthetic of most of the other bands in this line-up — or with most bands, in general.

Neil Patterson of Downtowm Brown performs at World Famous Doll Hut. Photo by Scott Feinblatt

Their energy, screams, shredding, and humor allowed them to light up the night, even as the shadow of one of the stage’s stacked amplifiers obscured the illumination from one of the two flood lights that had been rigged outside. After blasting the charmed audience with their impressive chops, leading the crowd in a show of devil horns, and revealing that dates are a healthy treat — because they’re only 20 calories each — they wrapped up their set with a solid cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Immediately after they finished their set, Low Budget fired up their set on the indoor stage and rekindled the evening’s theme with an enjoyable hybrid of thrashing, punk, and two-step grooves.

H.R. of Bad Brains performing at World Famous Doll Hut. Photo by Scott Feinblatt

Next up was H.R. (with Downtown Brown) with, ironically, the mellowest set of the evening. A handful of the 15-or-so song setlist were reggae-centric Bad Brains songs, including: “I and I Survive” (sang with J. Hawk of Infirmities), “The Youth Are Getting Restless,” and “I Luv I Jah.” As the backing band, Downtown Brown simply disappeared into the role, which is an impressive testament to their versatility given the enormous stage presence of guitarist / vocalist Neil Patterson. Some members of the crowd observed that they weren’t getting any rowdy music from H.R., but they seemed content enough to be in his presence. As the gray-haired icon laid on the good vibes, much of the audience seemed more preoccupied with capturing his performance on their phones than losing themselves in the moment with dancing and positive energy. After their impressively long set, H.R. and Downtown Brown brought it home with an encore of Bad Brains’ “Stay Close to Me.”

Fever Dream performing at World Famous Doll Hut. Photo by Scott Feinblatt

After they left the stage, several fans lined up to try to get H.R. to sign their memorabilia and Fever Dream turned up the volume with an energetic final performance on the Doll Hut’s indoor stage. The remaining relaxed vibes dissipated into the evening as lead singer Alexis Saldana shouted, “This next song is about vaginas!” and the band continued ripping into their enjoyably rowdy set, which effectively re-established the Doll Hut’s cornerstone, hard-edged music reputation.