LIVE REVIEWS, JANUARY-DECEMBER, 2020
THE BOYS. 100 Club, 11/1/2020. This was a great way to kick-off the new decade. The Boys were one of the earliest bands to emerge from the London ‘punk rock’ scene (0efore it even had a name) and Matt Dangerfelds’ small basement studio saw many of the other bands record their earliest demos within its’ confines. Musically, The Boys were more inclined towards the melodic side or punk rock, not a million miles away from the likes of The Ramones (who they toured with) or the Buzzcocks. But for some reason, the music press never really embraced their high-energy sound and they were never given the credit they deserved. Which is why, more than forty years later, it’s great that they’re still delivering excellent sets like this to prove the point. Of course, things have changed along the way and this evening, only Matt and Casino Steel represent the original line-up (Honest John Plain is unfortunately absent due to sickness but evidently intends to return to the fold as soon as possible.) However, the new additions to the band (all from various Swedish groups) are more than mere replacements, playing the songs true to the originals and with all of passion they demand. The gig starts with the traditional ‘Sabre Dance’ intro tape, before the band launch into ‘TCP’, immediately setting the tone and pace for the rest of the show. This is a band with so many truly great songs that pretty much every one played tonight is going to be someone’s favourite. ‘See Ya Later’, ‘Terminal Love’, ‘Weekend’… and those are all played in the first ten minutes! Just to show they’re not relying only on the oldies, the set includes several songs from the recent ‘Punk Rock Menopause’ album, which go down just as well as their predecessors. When compared to classics like ‘Cop Cars’, ‘I Don’t Care’ and ‘Brickfield Nights’, they’ve got some tough competition, but songs like ‘1976’ and ‘I’m A Believer’ certainly stand-up with style. The venue has been packed all evening, proving that the fans still love this band regardless of the critics, and when the encore includes songs like ‘First Time’, Living in The City’ and ‘Sick On You’, it really is the perfect way to end a show. If you weren’t blown away by this gig, you just weren’t there. Make sure you don’t miss your chance the next time…
WIRE. Rough Trade East, 25/1.20. Celebrating the launch of their latest album, ‘Mind Hive’, Wire are playing a short set at RTE. I’ve seen them here several times before and, although the events have always been busy, there’s never been a big problem getting-in. However, this evening things are very different. As I turn in to Hanbury Street, there’s a crowd queueing around the block and I soon realise that this is for the Wire event! I’m really glad that I have my RT contacts, as I’m sure I wouldn’t have got in without them (the secret RT handshake works wonders…) That beibg said, the buzz about the new album has obviously been building even before its’ release and quite rightly so. I’ve never disliked any Wire album but some are obviously better than others and ‘Mind Hive’ is clearly one of the best. Everything I love about this band can be found on this record. Catchy tunes, dark psychedelia, energy, smart lyrics and a natural step-forward from anything they’ve done before. The set runs a little late but the band members are seen walking through the audience to the stage area so no-one’s worried. Soon enough, they’re onstage and ready to start. The set opens with ‘Be Like Them’ and ‘Cactused’ from the new album and both tracks capture what it is that I’ve always loved about the band. The live versions are a lot more visceral than their recordings, but at the same time retain both the melodic and intellectual elements. Wire can make perfect pop sound like the Stooges or The Monks in full flow, taking no prisoners but also enthralling your soul. Very few bands have ever managed this convincingly and only Buzzcocks or Mission of Burma come to mind at this moment… Tonight, the only older track they include is ‘Over Theirs’ from ‘The Ideal Copy’ album and it’s a good choice. ‘Over Theirs’ still offers possibilities to be developed, something that has always been a trait of their work. Why replay something you’ve already done when you have a chance to do something new with it? ‘Primed & Ready’ is one of the more melodic moments of this set, before a long, brooding version of ‘Hung’ brings the proceedings to a close. As ever, Wire have defied expectations, plundering their own legacy to create something new and vital. ‘Mind Hive’ is easily one of the most, if not the, great albums of this year, even having been released in January! If you can’t dig this, you can’t dig nothing… (as a wise man once said…) Trust me on this one… get yourself a copy of ‘Mind Hive’ at the earliest chance you get!
THE PHOBICS / JUNKO FUSE. The Pelton Arms, 8/2/20. This was one of those really annoying occasions when I wanted to arrive early to see all three bands (The Anderson Tapes were opening) so I left home early, arrived at the train station in plenty of time, but then suffered delays all the way and missed the openers altogether. At times like this you end up thinking, if I hadn’t made a point of being early, I would’ve got there with no problems at all, but once I’d made it known that I wanted to be on time, there was no way it was going to happen. Damnit. As it turns out, I almost miss Junko Fuse as well, although for different reasons. I arrive at The Pelton to find the place absolutely packed. The place is usually pretty busy when The Phobics play, but this turn-out is exceptional. At first, I assume at least some of the punters are there for some other reason, someone’s birthday-drinks or whatever, but as the evening goes on, the place remains rammed to the gills and plenty of the unfamiliar folks are down in front of the stage for the bands, so it seems they really were there for the gig. It just goes to show what an album review in ‘Fear & Loathing’ can do for you (I wish…) Anyway, back to Junko Fuse, with the place so busy, I have to force my way through to locate various friends and have the usual chats, before realizing that JF are already onstage. I’m glad to say they’re back to full-effect tonight, after the drummer-replacement problems they’ve had in recent times, and play a good set of solid punky tunes that gets plenty of people up’n’dancing ahead of the headliners. But tonight totally belongs to The Phobics. I think the audience-response even surprised the band, but in all the best ways. They launch into the songs from their excellent new album, pretty-much playing each and every track (sadly, no piano was available for ’12 Bar Dudes’) but everyone seems to be familiar with the setlist and there’s an impressive pit in front of the stage. Admittedly, stage diving attempts end-up more like bizarre piggy-back escapades, but it all adds to the event. The set ends with a selection of their older songs, ‘Midnight Milkshake’, ‘Lipstick’ and of course, ‘Down & Out in Deptford’. This was such a very enjoyable gig and exceptional, even if it was on their own manor. Seriously, with no regards to them being my friends, The Phobics are a really great band and firing on all cylinders right now. Just go to see them and you’ll know what I mean.
AUTOMATIC / MODERN WOMAN. Peckham Audio, 15/2/20. First time I’ve ever been to a gig in Peckham and it actually seems like quite a lively area. The venue is almost opposite the station and is probably more of a club venue than a regular place for gigs, but it seems alright and steadily fills-up. The first band, Modern Woman, turn out to be a disappointment. They obviously think they’re an amalgam of various ‘post-punk’ influences, but the current results are predictable and not very enticing. They’re starting from an interesting point but not really doing much with it… hopefully they’ll find a way to develop their own character. By the time Automatic arrive onstage, the place is pretty full-up but someone decides that what it really needs is to be swamped with dry-ice. Perhaps its’ the Bauhaus connection, but in this situation, there was far too much of the stuff and it didn’t add to the atmosphere. Fortunately, Automatic themselves do still manage to deliver a fine set, even though you sometimes have to vigorously waft the dry ice away just to see them. But songs like ‘Too Much Money’, ‘Calling It’ and their inspired cover of ‘Mind Your Own Business’ demand your attention. Mixing the raw spirit of all-girl bands like The Slits and The Raincoats, together with the naïve beauty of bands like Young Marble Giants when they first discovered access to electronic music, Automatic recall the spirit of that era whilst confidently re-planting it in the contemporary scene. This is a band that may well ad a very interesting angle to pop-music over the next few years.
DREAD MESSIAH / BUG CENTRAL / ANARCHISTWOOD. The Birds Nest, 22/2/20. It’s another gig where the band I most want to see, Anarchistwood, are first on the bill and as it turns out, I’d probably have to say that most of the people in attendance are there for the same reason. Having settled on a pretty steady line-up, with bonus bass-action from the legendary Mitch Flacko, Anarchistwood have become a much more consistent band over the past year or so and while that certainly hasn’t dulled their experimental edge, it has given them a more solid basis from which they can twist and elaborate their ideas. Psychedelic Punk that really presents something different, you do need to pay attention but once it sinks-in, you can just let it groove. You need to familiarise yourself with Anarchistwood as soon as you can. After this, there’s plenty of socialising to be done, but I still make time to watch Bug Central, who play a rather decent set. I can’t say that their mix of Street-punk and Anarcho sounds is the most original that you’ll hear, but they’re one of those bands whose sheer enthusiasm wins over the audience. I’d much rather have bands like this playing regularly than not. Dread Messiah headline the evening and I didn’t know much about them, but I was expecting some crust punk which, to a certain extent, was what we got. Combined with some tempered riffs and inventive metal elements, the band were pretty good although I’m not entirely sure that the PA sound really suited them tonight. But, at the end of the evening, I’d enjoyed all three bands and, for a free night out, there really were no complaints to be made.
BONA RAYS – Q&A. Flashback Records, Shoreditch, 28/2/20. If you’re not already familiar with Bona Rays and their long-lost single, ‘Poser’, you can read the interview elsewhere in this very issue. This event was put together to celebrate that the record was finally being made available, with original members Chas and Tony answering questions about the band and the peculiar turn-of-events that has eventually seen the single being released by Flashback Records. There’s a lively, enthusiastic audience to support the event and, no doubt aided-and-abetted by a plentiful supply of beer from a nearby off-license, it’s a great evening. I even bump into the elusive Dave Ferguson for the first time in ages (sober and on a bicycle, believe it or not!) Afterwards, a bunch of us head over to a nearby pub and the festivities continue. If there’s a better way to continue celebrating the spirit of Punk Rock, I have yet to find it.
BRIAN JAMES – Q&A. The Dublin Castle, 2/3/20. This was a ‘Rock’n’Roll Book Club’ event launching the biography of Brian James by the unlikely named John Wombat. Brians’ role in Punk and rock’n’roll has been criminally under-rated and a book such as this is long-overdue, but I do have to say that this event was a bit underwhelming. Whilst the initial Q&A session went pretty well, it soon became apparent that Mr Wombat hadn’t really accounted for the needs of the event. Firstly, he’d only brought a few copies of the book itself which had, apparently, all been sold even before the Q&A had started. And, then, after only a brief time onstage alongside Brian, he did a flit! Perhaps there was a good reason, but it wasn’t made-known… it all seemed rather sloppy. Fortunately, Dave Treganna, former Lords of the New Church member, was available and joined Brian onstage to discuss the music they played together, so I’m glad that it was able to continue at an interesting level, but as I said before, this was something that really deserved to be given a proper amount of respect. Rock’n’Roll Bookclub set it up properly, Brian and Dave played their part… but where was the author when he was supposed to be there?
EXIT-STANCE / ACTIVE SLAUGHTER / ELLESE ELLIOTT / VIRUS. Overdrive Studios, 14/3/20. There’s a certain poignancy to the fact that the last gig I go to see before the lockdown kicked-in featured a band called ‘Virus’, although I doubt anyone there had any idea of the complete shambles that lay ahead. Regardless, this was an event run by ‘Grow Your Own’ records and had already been hampered when two of the scheduled bands (Sanction This and the Menstrual Cramps) had been forced to cancel due to Covid-related problems. But that wasn’t going to stop the evening and various replacements were found to ensure that the gig went ahead. Virus are actually rather good, playing an aggressive style of Anarcho-punk with good accessible hooks that bring the songs into the present. I’ll definitely be keen to hear their upcoming album! The next performer, Ellese Elliott, is backed by members of the other bands so it’s a bit haphazard, but kind of interesting. Active Slaughter have been a mainstay of the London anarcho scene over the past two decades and deliver the sort of powerful set you’d expect from them. They obviously have musical roots in bands like Conflict or Subhumans but also add a more street-punk feel to proceedings to make sure they get across to their audience. Finally, Exit-Stance, who I hadn’t seen since the Eighties. I can’t say I remember much about them from that time, but musically they seem to be a lot more interesting now, combining their original Anarcho-style with different elements to give the songs more depth and atmosphere. If a band is going to reform, this is what they need to do, making the most of their original output but also finding a way to move it forward. I was impressed. I really hope it won’t be too long before gigs like this can start to happen again.
ANARCHISTWOOD. All Ages Records, Camden, 22/8/2020. It’s a shame that more bands didn’t take the initiative and figure-out ways they could play live without having to deal with all the restrictions placed on regular venues. That being said, I doubt if any of us expected this whole situation to drag-on as much as it has done… In Anarchistwoods’ case, they’ve always been fond of playing gigs in less-likely locations, so a return to All Ages record shop seemed entirely appropriate. Setting-up on the pavement outside the shop, they have a small PA and extension leads supplying the power from indoors… They know what they’re doing and everything comes together quickly as a small but reasonably-distanced audience gathers. Beers from the local off-license help the atmosphere and by the time the band start their set with the ever wonderful ‘Bomb in the Luggage Rack’, everybody is in just the right mood for the set. The sound isn’t perfect but it’s the event that matters and both the band and audience combine to make this something special. As the music proceeds, more people turn-up to enjoy the spectacle, with some from the nearby flats either watching from their windows or wandering over to join the crowd. Everyone’s seems genuinely enthusiastic, even though Anarchistwoods’ music probably isn’t to everyone’s taste. But seeing a gig like this, with no ulterior motives and fuelled with just the desire to play, counts for a lot, especially in the middle of a year where our opportunities for live performances have been so severely restricted. This was a vital expression and something that everyone could appreciate. Viva la Rock’n’Roll, indeed!