The English lads in Buzzcocks must be melting; Angelenos certainly are. It’s mid-week in mid-September and it’s still in the mid 90s as the sun fades into the Pacific, allowing veteran punks to head to the Fonda Theatre in relative cool as temps recede from the triple digits. Relative being the operative word, of course, and one of importance when seeing a punk band that itself is thirty-something years old. It’s unrealistic to expect youthful vitriol and cathartic aggression amidst the middle-aged and more than a few of their children…right? They might be relatively good, but can they be objectively good?
As could be expected, the room holds plenty of tatted forearms and more than a few Mohawks. The pre-show soundtrack is unassailably old school punk and the Meatbodies have done their part to amp up the mood. The scene is set at a Hollywood venue that channels its inner Singapore, making attendees throw out their gum upon entry.
The foursome emerges to a buoyant welcome, spurring a particularly big smile from Steve Diggle, the Dudley Moore-ish looking guitarist/vocalist to Pete Shelley‘s Sir Richard Attenborough.
The curtain rises and the assault begins to cheers and raised arms. It’s tight, and with “Keep on Believing” they set the tone for what is to follow.
Tell me what I need to know and show me what you’ve got to show /
I told you on that floor to keep on believing
They immediately begin blowing through their set, the catalog sprinkled with new material; the band is officially dropping their 9th studio album, The Way, on October 6th. Diggle alternates between guitars, his Rickenbacker always a welcome sight. An improbably breakneck pace adds revolutions with “People Are Strange Machines,” culminating in an orgasmic finish punctuated by Diggle’s windmilling arm punishing his instrument and pleasuring our ears.
They recover quickly, immediately plunging back into the punk rock pool after emerging from each two to three to four minutes of synchronized insanity. The vocals are perfectly presented even when not perfectly pitched. It’s not piped in, and it’s primal, even though the amped-to-11 sound is sometimes muddy. As it continues, a salient question arises: Where are they getting the stamina?
The crowd particularly loves the ohhh ohhhhh ohhh sing-a-long moments, (see: “Promises“), a stylistic convention that long ago embedded itself into Southern Californian punk culture. “What Do I Get” brings a ripping end to a 65-minute workout, the intervals having proven equally intense and consistently entertaining.
They return after a brief respite, spouting off with a “Thank you very much!” before resuming the two-guitar attack with a boisterous edition of”Harmony In My Head.”
They explode with all the might of their seemingly endless energy with “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” — likely the only punk rock song inspired by Guys and Dolls. It’s expected, but no less appreciated for its obvious insertion in the encore. The sound and the fury could end right here, lacuna aside, and no one would leave complaining. (Well, maybe not — this is a punk show). They have one more arrow in their quiver, and it’s their most poignant projectile. “Orgasm Addict” leaves everyone in a lather, ending in a wonderfully discordant eruption of everything remaining in the tank of primordial punk.