Sept 16th 2012
It’s amazing that after all these decades that buzzsaw guitar can still be so effective.
The twin six strings of Shelley and Diggle are so defining that seconds into their set you are hooked in and the fact that these songs come from the late seventies is irrelevant because they still sound so urgent and alive.
It could be the energy and showmanship that Steve Diggle puts into it. He has the cantilevering style of an old school guitar hero, a long lost art in body and machine melding that sees his guitar as weapon dynamic cranked to 11. It could be Pete Shelley’s art school take on it that stops the band becoming just another rock n roll band and infuses the whole thing with a sardonic and artful intelligence that keeps them on the cutting edge. It could be the rhythm section who despite not being originals have put a fierce backbone into the band.
The pair of Shelley and Diggle are so different and yet their dynamic is perfect and it’s this that is at the heart of what keeps the Buzzcocks edge after all those years on the road.
Buzzcocks in 2012 are a well oiled machine, sometimes a bit too well oiled in a different sense of the word, like at the recent Manchester Apollo gig but on a night like this they deliver a perfect set, a jukebox stuffed full of hits. Those glorious songs define timelessness, a set full of songs that were either hits or should have been hits, songs that were sometimes b sides or album tracks but dripping with the quicksilver melody that makes each song sound like it should have been a raid on Top Of The Pops.
Buzzcocks wrote guitar pop songs as good as the Beatles but in a time when the mainstream media had a terror of guitar pop- they did get their TV and radio play but not the avalanche of media love that these classics deserved. Ironically they get played now on oldie stations like alternative radio channels in the UK but they only play the old stuff and not some of the great tunes that populate their newer albums.
The band’s revenge has been to play the world non stop and get treated as one of those quirky tears in the fabric of pop that obey none of the set out rules. Far from being a rehash of former glories this is a celebration of brilliance.
The songs come tumbling down, Moving Away From The Puslebeat is a real highpoint. It still sounds futuristic with that fractured tribal drum beat and a prime example of the twin guitar thing with the instruments working against eachother but in perfect unison. Diggle tells me later on that when they wrote the song they couldn’t hear what eachother were playing and worked by instinct, creating parts that felt right. The result is everyone is playing lead at the same time like all the great bands do. It’s utterly hypnotic.
Promises is a pure pop rush. The packed audience in the 1500 capacity venue is in sweaty moshpit frenzy and adding plenty of wooaahs to the choruses, Harmony In My Head is as direct as it ever was but with an added breakdown in the middle where Diggle ad libs like a Mancunian Joe Strummer. After the gig he tells me how he likes the danger of music and that rock n roll should be chaotic and not clinical. It’s an approach that can pay great dividends and also cause problems which gives it an added frisson.
There are so many great songs played tonight that we can’t just rattle them off and just stand there getting washed over by this great sound, this timeless sound of the band that refuses to die and has turned their catalogue of skewed bitter sweet love songs into a touring machine.