Stiff Little Fingers
17 November 2012
The Stiff Little Fingers 35th anniversary tour reaches Dublin and gives the lively crowd a fast-paced, energetic run through of old favourites.
Having played a fairly extensive run of dates in the UK for their 35th anniversary in spring of this year, it was with great relief that Dublin learned that the tour wasn’t over and we were to be added to the latter few dates. It was even greater news when it was announced that punk veterans âSpear of Destinyâ were to support.
Unfortunately, Spear of Destiny went on earlier than anticipated, and I managed to miss them, a combination of a non-driver navigating through streets only used to walking down (and seemingly obliviously illegally cycling down), and an early curfew, meant things were running strictly on time. Lesson learned (until the next time.)
âSpear of Destinyâ is finishing up just as I get to the balcony of Dublinâs Academy. I spoke to a few who had made it in on time, and by all reports, they were great. Having never seen them before, I look forward to a headlining gig in the near future.
The frustration and sheer annoyance of missing them dissipates after a few minutes at the realisation that Stiff Little Fingers will arrive on stage any minute. There are certain bands that always draw a crowd in this town; Stiff Little Fingers are one such band. Spirits are high, and thereâs a great atmosphere before they even take the stage.
The first thing noticeable about Stiff Little Fingers as they take the stage is that the band completely betrays the fact that this is a 35th anniversary tour. Jake Burns especially looks better than he has in years, having lost a few pounds, he looks healthy, energetic, and youthful in his Johnny Cash-esque attire.
They kick off tonight with the same track as they have been pretty much every night on this anniversary tour, Inflammable Materialâs âWasted Lifeâ , and even though youâre kind of half expecting it, it still has massive impact, like the first time you gave that exceptional debut a spin. The next few tracks come fast, two from albums two and three, although not in order of release, âJust Fade Awayâ is quickly followed by Steve Grantleyâs pounding intro of âAt the Edgeâ.
Watching the gig from the balcony can be great, a chance to survey the band, and crowd for the purposes of documentation. Sometimes however, you feel like a voyeur, downstairs people are sweating, and crowd surfing, and my beer is perched on the railing. In attendance are those who would have caught the SLFâs first excursion to this town, joined with the fresh-faced contingent, singing, and pumping their fists in unison. The band is basking in the interaction on the ground, especially a hyperactive Ali McMordie, who swings bass and body around with complete abandonment.
They play a couple of new tracks that has people excitedly talk after the gig about their forthcoming album. âTrail of Tearsâ has some guitar riffage reminiscent of Thin Lizzy (not a criticism), and the second Jake introduces as having been written in a darker period than tonightâs revelry, a depression that kept him homebound for time. âAll my Dark Placesâ leads off with Jake beating down on his guitar, before the rest of the band kick in. It may have been penned in darker times, but when Jake sings âIâm not going back to my dark placesâ expelling again those forces that brought him there, you believe him. Both tracks really whet the appetite for the new album, overdue, considering it will be nine years since their last âGuitar and Drumâ by time the follow up is released.
They play the title track of that tonight; as well as âCanât Get away with Thatâ which sees Ian swap backing vocals for lead, both tracks fitting seamlessly with the older material. The highlight of that album was Jakeâs ode to Joe Strummer, and tonight he tells us about his reasons for writing âStrumervilleâ. For a man he never actually met, its clear Joe had a profound affect on him. âYou lit a flame in my heart, and itâs burning stillâ.
Written for a man responsible for some of punkâs greatest anthems, this dedication has become a choice anthem in its own right. Thatâs clear as it rings round the Academy tonight âgoodbye inspiration, voice of a generationâ, and again as the crowd chant along to the Clash City Rockers outro, itâs a fitting tribute to a man who will be a decade passed next month.
Stiff Little Fingers of course have anthems of their own, and being that this is a 35th year celebration, tonight is steeped in them, âBarbed Wire Loveâ, âSilver Liningâ, and Straw Dogsâ sound every bit as vital as ever.
Voyeurism is no longer good enough, the heat from downstairs too inviting, and as I climb the steps the band burst into âSuspect Deviceâ, playing as if the last 35 years hadnât elapsed. Band and audience are raising the roof, two dynamic minutes pass in a haze, and as Jake twirls towards Steve and nods, he breaks into a drum beat which tears into the unmistakable guitar hewing of âTin Soldiersâ. It finishes, Jake holding his guitar aloft mimicking gunshots for Steveâs punctuating beats âThank You Dublin…Goodnightâ.
Itâs over as soon as its started, not because the set was short, on the contrary, much was squeezed into tonight. It was simply run through at breakneck speed, the energy not easing for an instant.
This was the 35th anniversary, and as the band saunter off, weâre aware of some notable omissions. Steve takes to the stage again first, and discharges the opening beat to âJohnny Wasâ and the band all triumphantly return. Thereâs more, Jake apologises for the rushed nature of the show and thanks a âgreat audienceâ with a promise to return soon. They blast into ââAlternative Ulsterâ, three of the best minutes ever committed to vinyl. They might have to rush, but they’re still going to give us more, âGotta Get Awayâ leads off with the crowd singing, itâs a vigorous, unrelenting version. Despite cries for more, this time itâs truly over. The band bow and then skip off the stage in complete defilement of the animated performance they have just delivered. You donât doubt theyâd have a few more in them. A truly magnificent execution, that never once let up, the crowd are euphoric.
In March when they were confirming dates for this tour there was concern they might have skipped us, the tour continues to roll on for now, but 35th anniversary or not, we know that come next year Jake and the boys will be back for more of the same, hopefully with a new album in tow, and if tonightâs taster is anything to go on, itâs going to be a good one.
All words by Ray Burke. You can read more from Ray on LTW here.
Image by Dod Morrison.Â