There’s late, fashionably late, and then there’s just downright late. And, I am sad to say, I was the latter for Killing Joke, as I walked into a set in full swing. For that I have to apologise as this review will need to reflect that tardiness on my part. No grabbing useful quotes and notes from Twitter or Facebook for me. Just the cold, hard, facts.
Still, as I walked into the back of a packed house at the O2 Institute in Digbeth the crowd was clearly enthralled; enchanted by the iconic black-haired and black-eyed Jaz Coleman, alongside his troop of merry men (from the original line-up) Youth, Geordie and Ferguson.
The atmosphere soaked into my pours instantaneously, like osmosis, and it wasn’t long before I found myself lost in their set – arriving just in time for Killing Joke’s grinding track ‘Dawn of The Hive’ from their new album, Pylon. ‘Dawn of The Hive’ grows in strength and demands an audience to get behind it, as heads rocked back and forth in hypnotic rhythm. This was followed quickly by ‘Panopticon’, another new, powerful, guitar soaked track, and a welcome addition to their long list of great set pieces.
Pylon is an album with the potential for producing classic Killing Joke songs when looked back upon in years to come; any new band would be proud if this was their debut album. But it isn’t, Pylon is Killing Joke’s 16th studio LP. It’s a great album and a great showcase for what the band still have to offer the world of music today; a tonic to the slow, droopy mainstream vanilla Pop that seems to be flavour of the month at the moment.
It is a sad state of affairs that a band that has been around as long as Killing Joke are still one of the more relevant rebellious voices on the contemporary music landscape. It’s like the children of the Punk Rock generation rebelled against their parents by becoming insipid, apolitical and simpering. What have we done people?
Like other bands with a long career behind them, Killing Joke rightfully delivered a set that included greatest hits – but one clearly (and cleverly) built around their new, fresh-feeling new album. Many bands in the same situation as Killing Joke will usually play one or two new tracks; Killing Joke peppered their unrelenting set with them to great effect. Maybe it’s because they know how good their new offering is.
The balance – from the 40 minutes I was fortunate enough to witness – was thoughtfully put together; it was a gig that did not shy away from embracing new fans of their music, while playing to their die-hard disciples too. I feel envious of anyone new to Killing Joke, knowing how many treasures there are to uncover from their 15 previous albums.
Switching from new sounds to an oldie-but-goody, Killing Joke bellowed out their much loved, anthem ‘Love Like Blood’ from their 1985 album, No Way Out But Forward Go – dripping with 80’s sounds and nostalgia, acting as a call out to the crowd to get the party started if they hadn’t done so already. Jaz stood there, like a walking talking Ralph Steadman cartoon come to life, all angles and attitude wrapped up in a boiler suit.
When looking back at their output, it would appear that Killing Joke have only got more industrial, more unremitting in old age. There’s no mellowing, and the echoing, haunting voice of Coleman is unmistakable over the loaded licks provided by Geordie on lead guitar and Youth on bass. All held together with the powerful pounding of Ferguson’s drumming at the black heart of it all.
‘Asteroid’, from their eponymous 2003 album, followed before Killing Joke closed their set with ‘Pssyche’, another classic. Their three (belting) track encore, returned the band to their ample back catalogue – serving up a very early 1979 track, ‘Turn to Red’, followed by ‘War Dance’ and finishing with ‘Pandemonium’, another well worn, well known song from the ’94 album of the same name from.
Killing Joke are a band that many people may not have heard of, but in a career that has seem them always skating around the peripheries, I think those people would be surprised by how familiar their music sounds and feels. And how influential they were. But for many present at this Halloween gig, Killing Joke are a band that have been – and still are, I think – the soundtrack of many middle-aged people’s lives.
And what a soundtrack to have. Long live Killing Joke.
For more on Killing Joke, including online sales of Pylon and their back catalogue, visit http://www.killingjoke.com/
For more from the O2 Institute, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit http://o2institutebirmingham.co.uk/