KILLING JOKE, GLASGOW ABC
2 OCTOBER 2008 - GIG REVIEW
Punk reunions are always potentially scary. I recall a 1997 TV documentary on the 20th anniversary of the year punk truly exploded – 1977 – and it was unnerving seeing all the snotty-nosed, exuberant upstarts from my own youth suddenly transformed into respectable, middle-aged people. Just like myself!
I resisted the more recent Sex Pistols reunions because I have a concise picture of them at their zenith, probably most aptly defined by their antics during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. As they soared down the Thames on that chartered boat, igniting bigoted middle-class sensibilities throughout Ye Olde Englande, they were an incendiary combination of raw rock n roll, courtesy of Steve Jones majestic riffs, and John Lydon’s wonderfully camp vitriol. Even then, with Glen Matlock jettisoned in favour of loveable liability Sid, they were on the slide.
However, seeing them as paunchy fiftysomethings was arguably better than not seeing them at all. And according to the firsthand reports and the numerous YouTube clips from their 2007 UK tour, they can still play a fucking blinder. I saw Lydon on BBC’s ‘The One Show’ recently, and even although he was charming, articulate and caustic all at once, you could see the presenters squirming in case he reverted to the tabloid pariah of decades ago. Such is the longevity of a punk rock revolution that was supposed to be instantaneous and self-combusting.
Killing Joke burst onto the post-punk scene around 1979. They were dark and brooding, with an infectious sound incorporating Youth’s menacing basslines, Geordie’s trademark ‘wall of noise’ guitar, Jaz Coleman’s deranged vocals, Paul Ferguson’s thunderous drumming, and dense keyboard textures. Their early albums were ambitious masterpieces; reacting to the 1980s Cold War chill, they churned out a barrage of memorable songs. These were sometimesthin on melody but bristling with spiky attitude and imagery – Change, Requiem, Wardance, Pssyche, Follow the Leaders, and many more. I lost touch with them sometime after ‘Eighties’ - the one they were busy suing Nirvana for allegedly ripping off just before Kurt Cobain’s untimely death in 1994.
Killing Joke were actually banned in Glasgow back in the day, when the city elders, typically, misread the band’s political stance by failing to see the sledgehammer irony in promo posters featuring fascist-saluting priests.
I first saw Killing Joke at Edinburgh Uni in 1980. Back then they were phenomenal: unique, vital. Against all those horrible jangly guitars that sprouted in punk’s wake they stood out like an apocalyptic sore thumb. Fast-forward 28 years and they still produce a fine selection of relentless riffs; although to my ears a lot of their 90’s stuff plods where more vintage tracks like The Wait somehow manage to sound fresher and therefore steal the show. Some of their later material, such as eighth album ‘Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions’, was particularly ear-shredding and ‘industrial’. Thankfully they opted for crowd pleasers over indulgence.
Jaz’s manic gurning occasionally verges on irritating simpleton; but for someone who has been everything from punk to make-up plastered Goth to composer for the Prague and New Zealand symphony orchestras to Czech film idol to sole inhabitant of a Pacific desert island, not to mention being a driving force behind a seminal British rock n roll band, he’s entitled to look fucking eccentric. The Verve and Primal Scream’s producer-of-choice, Youth, was dressed for a Duran Duran video-shoot but the band went down well and got three encores from the assembled crowd of mostly fortysomething devotees like myself.
Youth may have reached a point where his nickname should be Middle-Age but the spirit driving the band remains fierce and enigmatic. Most nobly, they cited their main inspiration for reforming the original line-up as fury at the way the civilized world is once again using extreme violence to solve political crises, with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. When they formed as teenagers it was, respectively, the Soviets and Iranians setting about their neighbours – beyond the nationalities pulling the triggers nothing much changes.
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Gig review: Killing Joke, ABC, Glasgow, 2/10/08
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