Stiff Little Fingers: Dublin – live review

Stiff Little Fingers
Academy, Dublin
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 ‘Spear of Destiny’ 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.)

‘Spear of Destiny’ is finishing up just as I get to the balcony of Dublin’s 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 there’s 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 Material’s ‘Wasted Life’ , and even though you’re 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, ‘Just Fade Away’ is quickly followed by Steve Grantley’s pounding intro of ‘At the Edge’.

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 SLF’s 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. ‘Trail of Tears’ 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 tonight’s revelry, a depression that kept him homebound for time. ‘All my Dark Places’ 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 “I’m not going back to my dark places” 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 ‘Guitar and Drum’ by time the follow up is released.

They play the title track of that tonight; as well as ‘Can’t Get away with That’ which sees Ian swap backing vocals for lead, both tracks fitting seamlessly with the older material. The highlight of that album was Jake’s ode to Joe Strummer, and tonight he tells us about his reasons for writing ‘Strumerville’. For a man he never actually met, its clear Joe had a profound affect on him. “You lit a flame in my heart, and it’s burning still”.

Written for a man responsible for some of punk’s greatest anthems, this dedication has become a choice anthem in its own right. That’s clear as it rings round the Academy tonight “goodbye inspiration, voice of a generation”, and again as the crowd chant along to the Clash City Rockers outro, it’s 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, ‘Barbed Wire Love’, ‘Silver Lining’, and Straw Dogs’ 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 ‘Suspect Device’, playing as if the last 35 years hadn’t 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 ‘Tin Soldiers’. It finishes, Jake holding his guitar aloft mimicking gunshots for Steve’s punctuating beats “Thank You Dublin…Goodnight”.

It’s 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, we’re aware of some notable omissions. Steve takes to the stage again first, and discharges the opening beat to ‘Johnny Was’ and the band all triumphantly return. There’s more, Jake apologises for the rushed nature of the show and thanks a “great audience” with a promise to return soon. They blast into ‘‘Alternative Ulster’, three of the best minutes ever committed to vinyl. They might have to rush, but they’re still going to give us more, ‘Gotta Get Away’ leads off with the crowd singing, it’s a vigorous, unrelenting version. Despite cries for more, this time it’s truly over. The band bow and then skip off the stage in complete defilement of the animated performance they have just delivered. You don’t doubt they’d 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 tonight’s taster is anything to go on, it’s going to be a good one.

All words by Ray Burke. You can read more from Ray on LTW here.

Image by Dod Morrison. 

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  1. Ah, not for the first time I hear from Henry’s arse. And also not for the first time, I disagree with it. Cheers, all the same! Jake.


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