Tuesday, 6 March 2012

844 KILLING JOKE, The Icarus Line, Bristol O2 Academy, Tuesday 5 March 2012

A 2 Part “Mad March to Bristol” with the Big Man this year; SLF, as usual, comes later in the month, but first a return for Killing Joke, hosts of my first gig back in the Summer of 1981, and back on my gig radar thanks to a couple of recent thunderous performances. If this one lived up to those standards, particularly the awesome 2008 Forum rendition of their first 2 cacophonous albums, this gig might really threaten to unmoor the O2 Academy from its’ foundations, with vocalist and main (mad) man Jaz Coleman no doubt laughing manically in the rubble. We’ll see...

Given dodgy support bands, Rich and I set off late for this one, just after 7.30. However, we unfortunately still hit the venue for the last knockings of The Icarus Line’s primitive swampy rock howl of a set, which was met with complete indifference by the disappointingly sparse crowd. However we got a drink and ran into old punk friend Debbie, before grabbing our usual stage left spot and watching the place fill up.

Killing Joke joined us at 9.15 prompt, to the backing sound of mysterious chanting; the original line-up, this, with imposing guitarist Geordie leading the band on, and the crazed, black boiler-suited and comparatively diminutive form of Jaz Coleman last on, once again made up to resemble a chainsaw-toting killer clown. However, far from this being the anticipated extreme, brutal rock assault, we had a very subdued opening; it rocked, sure, but with nothing like the visceral intensity that Killing Joke are well capable of. An early number dedicated to, “our dads,” was low-key to the point of sentimentality, and even Jaz’ crazed St. Vitus Dance and usual facial contortions seemed reined-in. Half a dozen numbers in, the tumbling tribal beat of oldie “Unspeakable” briefly threatened to kick-start a moribund gig into life, with Jaz spitting the hook with more bile and venom, and newie “Rapture”, a chugging rocker, kept the momentum up. “Bloodsport” followed, “for a friend of ours who likes to hunt while listening to Killing Joke!” but was again a little subdued, although the subsequent “Chop Chop” from “Revelations”, their 3rd album (which Jaz introduced by saying, “we haven’t played this one since 1982!”) was a pounding, metallic growl and the set highlight thus far.

My Joke experience doesn’t extend much beyond those first 3 albums, and certainly not into their nu-metal noise output of recent times, so it’s probably as much down to me that I found the set occasionally heavy going, delving into proto sheet-metallic noise. However I was expecting a mix of the awesome and awful; what I didn’t expect was vast swathes of, well, average-ness, from this primal force of nature. A lot of the set was simply alright, which was a major disappointment. 1 hour 10 in, we finally got “The Wait” (“a 1 hour 10 minute "Wait",” I remarked to Rich), which blew the doors off, and set closer “Pssyche” (“traditions must be maintained,” announced Jaz) was superb, a reckless, careering and savage march. The final encore denouement was the radioactive synth pulse of oldie “Requiem”, which also rounded off the gig on a positive but puzzling note, as Jaz seemed to suddenly down tools at the end, as if fed up with something, and snarl a cursory, “goodnight,” before exiting the stage. Hmmm.

So, this was one definitely for the Killing Joke purists and die-hards, but overall a patchy and ultimately disappointing showing for me. And thanks to motorway bridgeworks and practically invisible “Diversion” signs, we ended up having to go West on the M4 and turn around by the old Severn Bridge! Then, the motorway was shut (again) so we ended up trolling through Malmesbury and Wootton Bassett, taking over twice as long as usual to get home. Is Bristol turning into the reverse equivalent of late 90’s London; you can’t get here from there?

Friday, 2 March 2012

843 THE WAR ON DRUGS, Weird Dreams, Bristol Thekla, Thursday 1 March 2012

Well, I’ve had a number of gigs in a row which have met or exceeded my expectations, so I guess I was due a bit of a clunker… It all seemed fairly promising; a chance to check out a new band on me, namely Philadelphia, PA. alt-rockers The War On Drugs, who thanks to Tim’s recommendation, infiltrated themselves into my end-of-2011 playlist with their sophomore effort “Slave Ambient”. Said CD garnered much critical praise, thanks to an absorbing mix of metronomic Krautrock, laconic alt-Country and wigged-out West Coast psychedelia, delivered by mainman Adam Granduciel’s drawling, monotone Bob Dylan-esque voice. Plus, the gig is on “The Dirty Boat”, a favourite location of mine, the scuzzy Thekla the essence of a rock’n’roll venue. A promising proposition, and one worth “coming up for air” for, following a horrible chest infection which had laid me low for the past few days. Hey, if I’m fit enough to return to work, I’m certainly fit enough for a gig!

So Tim and Tracey collected me early, and we parked up outside the “Dirty Boat” in time to get a drink while support Weird Dreams plied their trade onstage. The first number I heard sounded promising in a chiming C86 girly pop kind of way, but they then descended into innocuous wallpaper fayre, and were largely ignored by the rapidly filling crowd.

We squeezed our way down the front, stage left, whilst Adam Granduciel – who with a mop of long curls and a general unkempt air, recalled another Adam, namely “Northern Exposure”’s vagrant genius chef Adam – laboured through a finicky soundcheck, before flicking his sampler on and inflicting some dense white noise upon us, then subsequently leading the band back on at ¼ to 9. After an opener eased the set in, Adam demanded, “Bobby, where’s my sampler? I’m not joking this time!” and the noise kicked in again as the backdrop to the chiming, metronomic “Baby Missiles”. This and a subsequent “Your Love Is Calling My Name” were fine, resonant and absorbing, and featured some fine atonal harmonica from Adam. However from the outset much of the other material on show came across droney and aimless, the subtle nuances of light and shade evident on CD being overpowered by swathes of suffocating and unnecessary guitar and sampler overload.

Adam finally broke his non-communication pact midway through, to tell us of his last gig in Bristol, at the Louisiana, and a subsequent wander around to find his hotel for 2 hours in the rain (“Good times!” shouted some wag). However the following cover of The Waterboys’ “A Pagan Place” was once again smothered, and resembled the trial of endurance Adam’s rainy trek must have been. “Arms Like Boulders”, lean, punchy and muscular, briefly threatened to redeem matters, but the final set double-header, which culminated a heavy-going 1½ hour set, were again both murky and discordant messy walls of sound. I dunno, I like noise as much as anyone (Bob Mould in June is likely to be ear-splittingly and viscerally noisy), but this just didn’t do it for me, the shimmering wall of sound I expected being muddy and indistinct throughout.

So a disappointing experience overall; a brief set-list enquiry with the bassist afterwards revealed they don’t use one (“it’s all in our heads; if I had one I’d give it to you, man”), but if I’m honest, would I really have wanted it after that set? A shut M4 saw us detouring around foggy country lanes through Castle Combe on the way back, just to cap a disappointing night. I like their CDs way too much to abandon The War On Drugs right now, but let’s just say they’re waaaaay better on record than “live” at this point…