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?