Killing Joke – Manchester Ritz: Live Review
Killing Joke have never been more relevant – Dave Jennings ponders the best Killing Joke gig he has seen.
They say that some things improve with age and that may explain why, deep into my fiftieth year on the planet, I feel I have witnessed the best Killing Joke gig I have ever seen. How can it be the case that, after so many years and so many performances by the band that I actually do care to remember, this particular night left me punching the air and feeling energised and basically like I was sixteen again, so to speak?
Maybe it was the build up to the show. An excellent performance by the geezer himself, Jah Wobble, had set the scene. Stage banter, serious bass action alongside a great band, a couple of PIL numbers and some cool jazz had certainly set the scene for the main event. Killing Joke intro tapes are often a challenge to the audience, almost like a sonic version of the haka, and I once experienced one that lasted almost an hour. Tonight’s however is brief, unsettling and perfect and, along with the lit candles, ensures we are fully prepared for the ritual. The band enter and immediately the distinctive sound of keyboards melting into frantic riffs signals the start of the classic The Wait.
It’s possible that tonight may have been my perfect setlist with tracks from new album Pylon blended with an outstanding overview of the Killing Joke canon. They also offer a fully rounded view of this often misjudged band with the pounding, tribal drums and insane reverse riffs of The Fall of Because sitting perfectly alongside Absent Friends, tonight dedicated to Tony Wilson and Raven and a timely post-Halloween reminder that the dead can always live in our memory. The post-apocalyptic punk thrash of Asteroid is an established crowd favourite as is Love Like Blood and a stomping Eighties. Those two tracks recall the mid-Eighties chart peak of the band and contrast perfectly with the memories stirred by the performance of The Beautiful Dead. We were present at a sparsely attended Slosky’s (or International 2, I forget what name it was under) on a fine spring evening in 1989 when Jaz led a reshaped line-up of Geordie, Martin Atkins and Taif on bass. As we left in the wee small hours, I acquired a flexi-disc of The Beautiful Dead and also a feeling that we may not see too much more of this unique band, despite the promising new material they had showcased that night (well, morning to be precise). They bounced back, they always do, with the blistering Extremities album and Money Is Not Our God tonight clearly shows they have lost none of their venom. Requiem and Pssyche are essentials to any Killing Joke live show but I’m not sure I have seen either generate the electric reaction they do here tonight.
It could be the fact that new offering Pylon is sitting proudly on top of the Rock Charts – a Number 1 Album for Killing Joke in 2015! Pylon is undoubtedly a tour de force and offers conclusive proof that this band are currently right at it. Five songs are played tonight and feeling the power of Autonomous Zone, Delete and the sublime I Am The Virus ram home the point – Killing Joke have never been more relevant and that is a buzz clearly felt by the audience too.
The audience – was it them who made this such a special event? Is there a better feeling than being in a room of like-minded folk, who are drinking in these precious moments just as much as you are? A connection you feel to people you don’t know and, apart from the odd back slap or brief nod, you probably don’t communicate with. The crowd tonight create an energy that is just as tangible as anything that comes from the stage. A group of people with a shared history of decades service as ‘gatherers’, following the twists and turns of the band’s career and feasting ravenously on this performance, storing memories as hibernating animals store food. Just as they don’t know if they will see another spring, we are unsure if we will share another Killing Joke performance so we gather our rosebuds accordingly.
Or is it the band themselves? This disparate collection of souls who collectively are an uncompromising band of brothers? There is Geordie, coolly strumming away as if he were amusing himself on a summer’s afternoon and yet he is firing out some of the finest, most powerful guitar parts ever recorded. How does he do that? In the darkness at the back is Big Paul, hammering the drums with such force you feel he could never lift a drumstick again so great is his effort, yet he comes back night after night to slam his way through the tribal rites of percussion. Is there a better drummer around? Not for me.
Reza Udhin’s keyboards have become essential to the latter-day Killing Joke, both the live experience and on record. Youth, resplendent in white jacket, is the driving force behind this wall of sound, a stylish and essential presence on the stage. Then there is Jaz Coleman. You would think after the times I have witnessed his arrival onstage that the impact would diminish. It doesn’t. He is a compelling and entrancing presence, the ultimate front-man. The war- painted, boiler- suited Duke of Dystopia who invites us again to “share my darkness” as he leads the assembled throng through his bleak lyrical visions that nevertheless offer an optimistic outlook. You know exactly what to expect; a visually compelling, entrancing and slightly disturbing stage presence that is beyond enigmatic. However, knowing what to expect does nothing to lessen the impact that a Jaz Coleman performance can have on the onlooker. He is the point of the lance that ensures Killing Joke will pierce any armour and make straight for the heart.
So it is the band and their performance that has left me reeling more than ever this time, and encores Turn To Red, Wardance and Pandemonium ram home the point even more. But it is also seeing them at the top of their game in a room packed full of fellow devotees who all know that Killing Joke matter now more than ever. Maybe the best clue as to why this performance had such an impact is in front of me throughout. The backdrop has two words on it that really serve as the final words on the matter – KILLING JOKE.