Killing Joke

Killing JokeKilling Joke
Manchester Albert Hall
4th April 2022

Fresh from interviewing Jaz Coleman here John Robb checks out their current tour and is blown away…

Age doesn’t wither them – it invigorates them. 

Setting the controls for the heart of the stun and deep into the decades of an idiosyncratic trip, Killing Joke are at the height of their wizard powers as they command the stage and pulverise the gathering with their multi-layered Panzer power that is also full of rich texture and nuance.

Far beyond the madding crowd Killing Joke are out there on their own. Drawn from all over the UK to West London’s decayed late seventies Bohemia they were flung up in the debris of punk rock but were very much on their own trip.  Never had four more unlikely people ended up in one band and somehow made it work.

Tonight there is so much in there to process from the dark muddy soundscapes of classical to the dance floor grooves of disco and funk to the sonic exploration of the left-field to a youthful fixation with glam rock’s tribal pounding simplicity to the diablo dance of the heavier droogs like Led Zip and deep into the heart of darkness of rock with an added potent twist of the adventures of post-punk offered by early PiL. Siphon all these and you have the ballpark but they assimilated everything and made it utterly their own. 

Unique.

And yet in many ways Killing Joke remain the furthest extremity of pop culture.

Weird, strange, heavy, monstrous and yet oddly pop. 

Their live set in 2022 is a pulverising treat – the heaviest groove machine on the planet – an all-enveloping test of perception that is also infectious and hypnotic. In the creeping darkness there is a twisted and dark matter pop and that’s what makes them really work.

You can also dance to Killing Joke – there is joy in the darkness. They are the heaviest and most twisted funk band in the world. A rhythm section driven by Paul Ferguson’s avalanche drums has a power and a tsunami groove and is built to dance. The core to Killing Joke was always twisting the darkness with these gargantuan grooves…a nod to War – the band and a nod to war – the human condition if you like.

The onstage strange voodoo between these four alpha veterans melds into something beyond. They are hewn from a strange rock and deliver a strange roll. Despite their individual visions of just how this juggernaut should be driven these four very disparate individuals have somehow managed to remain not only in the same room but in the same unit.

Jaz Coleman is as totemic as ever. His recent serious illness and age has not blighted his shamanic presence. He stalks the stage tiptoeing on the apocalypse with his shuffle footed steps and his laser beam eyes staring into the void delivering his vocals from behind a mop of fluffy hair. His delivery switches from an intense claustrophobic cracked voice to a curiously choir-like soaring beauty. His disgust at the ways things are taps into the 21st-century malaise, his visions are apocalyptic and his presence is all-pervading. 

Stage left Geordie still rips those bizarre sounds from the same Scotty Moore period Gretsch. Huge molten lava slivers of sound are impossible to place. They make no sense – no other guitar player creates stuff like this. He stands there, deceptively calm in the storm, as the twisted crescendos of sound dance out of his guitar with each riff unzipped and twisted inside out. Stage right Youth wanders around with his visor in place and draped in his tour fatigues dealing out those rumbling bass lines that bring the funk and the dub or play against the riff tsunami coming from Geordie. Somehow he finds space in the dense sound to own. 

The mystic power comes from Paul Ferguson – the astonishing drummer whose constantly impressive patterns lead in so many of the songs. A powerful drummer, his thunderous Valkyrie drumming is something to behold – it sounds enormous and is constantly playing with all the different variations of tribal pounding the toms around the constant kick drum – the dance floor groove and power of Killing Joke is right here.

The four of them together create this unique strange voodoo – a weird primitive force. 

The set leans on many of the older standards like Love Like Blood, the Wait, Pssyche, Requiem and Change and the high points peppered through their long and curious history like the Death And Resurrection Show and recent cuts like the great and telling I Am The Virus but in Killing Joke’s cased this kinda works as these slabs of sound are totemic and still feel like the future. Giant anthems from over the decades that are etched into the gathering’s heart and soul. Heads bob back and forth as the audience locks into their groove whilst some daring older gents are in the mosh pit – their bodies will be regretting this physical assault and action the morning after.

Killing Joke still breathes a fire dance into these decades-old songs, songs that make more sense as the world goes more insane. They still update this carrion catalogue with new anthems and the incoming new album have never felt more urgent or timely.

The madness that they embraced, the madness that they warned about, the madness that they dance to and the madness they turned into these twisted songs has never sounded more urgent or more current.

As Pandemonium ends the set with is huge wall of dark sound shivering into the high roof of the stunning Victoriana of the venue Killing Joke wander off the stage looking almost as surpassed as anyone in the room at how powerful their voodoo remains. 

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Killing Joke: Manchester Albert Hall – live review

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Imho, you are thee best writer at absolutely capturing and expressing what most find inexpressible- seriously, like reading poetry and always hitting the nail right on the head.
    Ps.Geordie’s guitar is a Gibson ES295 not a Gretsch, though it’s a common error.⚡️

  2. “Their live set in 2021”… er, I’m assuming it’s just a typo, rather than this review was written last year, in anticipation of the Honour The Fire tour? Otherwise, that and the Gretsch error aside, I can’t argue with a word here. Nailed it!

  3. Nailed it, John. I saw them in Nottingham last week and you’ve described the feeling and atmosphere perfectly.

  4. I also saw them in Nottingham last week, I was as mesmerized as I was the first time in 1983. Love this band with all my heart, proud to be a part of the gathering

  5. Brilliant review. Capturing the essence i felt on seeing them in november 1980. And since. A real event marching through the doom filled decades, giving us a truth a sound no one does better. More pertinent now. Breathtaking in its devastation and destruction.

  6. I would have seen them this time but for the ticket prices. Very expensive compared to other bigger names!.

    • Yes, I agree but I think it was because they were playing Academy venues who, in my opinion, rip off fans and artists alike. I will not go to see any show in an Academy group venue and would love to see artists boycott them. I fucking love the awesomeness of sound that Killing Joke make live.

  7. Killing Joke were always a band that felt more like a movement than a band! Although originally they carved a similar path to Death Cult and New Model Army with whom they oft shared a bill, there was always something more atavistic about their energy and their primacy over everyone else…Jaz Coleman’s savage soothsaying seer and his portentous portrayal of his objective reality and strange syncretism somehow came together to create the genius which is still resonating today…it’s no surprise this auteur turned out to be a creative renaissance genius traversing every genre and medium of self expression with such eloquence and ferocious observation, from the first show I ever saw them at Futurama in Leeds to today, nothing dims them nor diminishes their message, definitely one of the most principled and authentic voices of an entire generation. Total class and annihilation of fakery. Long may they signal our demise.

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