There are certainly a few truisms about attending a punk rock show. First and foremost, there are gonna be a lot of dudes in the audience, and the females in attendance generally won’t be the girly sort. You’re gonna see some aggression fueled by high-tempo anthemic music. At some point during a real punk show, you’ll know (if you didn’t already) that Blink-182 is not a punk band. It’s been too long since I’ve seen a punk show (Face to Face last September at Irving Plaza or whatever corporate moniker they’ve bestowed upon that joint), and it’s always good to reconnect to the music of my youth. Doing so on this occasion meant reconnecting via a band that started their creative process before my parents had started the process that resulted in my creation. That’s right, I’m talking about the Buzzcocks.
I’ve seen multiple shows recently that purists would deem as something other than a rock show. Not this one, however, because Pete Shelly and company threw down with an aural mud bath of highly influential punk rock at a sold out Black Cat on Tuesday night. On the first date of their US tour, the crowd and the band took a few songs to gain their groove. This isn’t without reason, as both the crowd and the band are rockin’ on with hairlines a bit thinner and waistlines a bit thicker. Something happens during that journey towards middle age that invariably alters one’s internal punk rock ethos. For most, aggression diminishes as comfort takes a higher precedence in one’s life. Cooler heads prevail over time…fight or flight no longer appear as the only two options…and that wisdom is likely what helps stave off the heart attack that surely have occurred already if we remained as statically angry and wound-up as many of us were in our teens and early twenties.
So, while seeing the Buzzcocks 30 years after their heyday is a different sort of punk rock experience, it wasn’t a Vegas show either. Perhaps this band can pull that off better than some because there was always a sensitive side to their lyrics, and unrequited love and other emotive themes still remain relevant to our lives after all the whisky that’s been poured under the bridge of life. I know they are in mine. These sentiments remain relevant to life in the here-and-now more so than the straight-up assault on authority that defined many of their contemporary punks and youth in general. This wasn’t a Vegas show, even with a gimmicky promise to play their first two records in their entirety, but it was one that for some probably evoked timeless nostalgia and for others it brought up anxiety from staying up past time for bed. After all, as a man in the Talkies once said, “We’re not that young.”
This isn’t to say that the crowd was interminably decrepit, for most seemed to be of the sort where older siblings, (for me, a decade-plus-six-days-older cousin), had introduced them to this incredibly important music. In fact, the crowd’s receptivity warmed in due course as the band did its part. There was a nod or two to civilization, as champagne was swigged on stage rather than the cheap swill that was no doubt the norm when these albums were first performed live. Moments of anachronism were minimal, however, as the band ripped through 90 minutes of punk rock with no rest for the weary. And if the weary included Shelly or his mates, there was no visible sign of them slowing things down as they rocked through until they broke through to remind the “kids” what testosterone can bring about. At some point, perhaps by the time they whipped out “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have Fallen in Love With),” the adrenaline was unleashed. By the set’s completion, the band seemed properly buzzed and the audience had rediscovered the organ they’d mostly forgotten after marriage. As the set ended, the citizenry on the floor realized that they needed more and, in well practiced form, they did what they needed to do to get some more. Which is to say, it was well past time to rock out with….well, you get the picture.
The encore allowed the Buzzcocks to break out a few of their more well-known tunes, the type that the younger generations have only heard over the P.A. before a punk-ish show unless their older siblings, (or cousins), have shown them the way. This is where the real punk rock finally broke on through. The show’s end was nigh, and this crowd of advanced experience knew that the time for pacing oneself had passed. “Harmony in My Head” typified the anthemic best of the oeuvre and generated arms pumping in unison. The wind-milling guitar on “Promises” further raised the punk rock antenna, and “What Do I Get” saw the crowd chanting along in response to tightly wound chords, belting out the Whoah oh oh chorus heard at many a punk rock show since the late 1970s.
At that point, there was little left to do but climax, and no band has a better song to bring about that bliss than the Buzzcocks. If you don’t know that song without mention, then I’m left to wonder why you even bothered to read these musings. That is, unless you’re still a youngster, in which case I’ll play the older sibling role and instruct you to get on iTunes and download “Orgasm Addict” faster than I can describe the show concluding with a 50-something guitarist violently throwing his ax offstage and smashing the mike stand in front of a crowd that, at least for one night, took an journey down memory lane and rediscovered the anthems of their youth, if not youth itself.