Concert review: Kevin Seconds

Kevin Seconds brings out his acoustic side at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C.

Kevin Seconds is a certified punk icon, but he’s been creating a separate identity for himself over the past decade and a half that flies in the face of that notion.

In 1979, he helped form the hardcore punk band 7 Seconds (with his brother Steve Youth on bass).  7 Seconds was one of the front-runners in the hardcore punk scene in the early 1980s, along with such bands as Bad Brains, Minor Threat and Black Flag.  Their short, fast and pop-inflicted punk sound was influential to several bands that garnered mainstream attention in the early ‘90s and beyond.

After nearly a decade of playing punk in 7 Seconds, Seconds decided to branch off in a new direction and embark on an acoustic solo career (all while still playing with 7 Seconds).  Since then, he’s recorded four proper solo albums and split with Alkaline Trio guitarist Matt Skiba.

For several reasons, when he took the stage at the Black Cat, the show held a vibe that was akin to the old Storytellers on VH1.  One, he genuinely likes to engage the audience.  He’ll take several minutes here and there to joke around with the crowd and just create a loose atmosphere. 

Two, he’s seen a lot of things being a part of the punk scene since the early ‘80s.  This was evidenced at one point by telling a recent anecdote about Keith Morris (the former front man of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks) playing in his new band. 

Three, because of the first two, there’s an air of nostalgia with him every time he talks about the scene or 7 Seconds (especially when he gets on the subject about them touring soon).  He’s able to draw the audience in and make them just as invested about being there as he is.

All of these are inherent aspects of the acoustic singer/songwriter though.  Seconds’ set bordered on the folk rock most of the time acting like the traditional singer/songwriter (he even had a harmonica in tow).  He weaved in out of stories through his songs and his anecdotes in between the songs, creating an easy going and good natured atmosphere for the 45 minutes he was on stage.

What’s not necessarily to be expected though is that Seconds is able to keep a lot of aggression that’s associated with his punk rock roots.  He’s still laid back, as is the case with most singer/songwriters, but the urgency from his earlier days with 7 Seconds is still there (which was clear after playing such an up tempo song off the split with Matt Skiba).  Usually when musicians of Seconds ilk make this sort of transition, they lose a good bit of that urgency and lean towards the lighter and softer side, shedding their past in punk.

Of course this goes back to his days with 7 Seconds.  Strong and structured lyrical content was always something Seconds did well.  Where contemporaries such as Henry Rollins and Ian Mackaye relied on bark and holler chanting lyrics (which was common place in the scene during those days, primarily due to those two), Seconds always built his song lyrics from more of a storytelling base.

Where most punks from the ‘80s hardcore scene made the transition into hard rock or post hardcore outfits like Rollins Band and Fugazi, it still seems natural that he would make the jump into the acoustic side of things.

An intimate setting like backstage at the Black Cat fits Seconds like a glove.  He’s able to play songs like “The Violence Inside” and “Random Harm” and just go at his own pace (even making a joke at his expense not being able to keep track of the time of the set).  For someone who was never the most hard line punk to begin with, this seems like the perfect place for him to be at this point in his career.  He’s content to play his set of heartfelt songs for a handful of people and have a good time.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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