- by Simon Heavisides Rating: Release Date: Label:
To watch Killing Joke take to the stage is like seeing the Mount Rushmore of post punk assemble before your eyes. Masterful drummer who can switch from tribal power to fluid subtlety on a dime, or a penny if you prefer, guitarist carving arcs of controlled noise from the air, always precise never gratuitous, bassist driving beneath it all with just the right amount of space around the notes, and a singer for whom the term is woefully inadequate.
Think for a minute about the unique nature of Killing Joke’s position in the messed up musical environment we live in now. Here you have a band celebrating, in their own way, the fourtieth anniversary of the year they arrived blinking into the world. Remember that world? In case you don’t, 1978 saw us in a paranoid state where nuclear oblivion seemed genuinely possible sooner rather than later, no wonder the music was tense. Now, where are we today...? Tragically an environment perfectly suited for Killing Joke, now wonder they called this the, ‘Laugh at your Peril’ tour, ho, ho. The word vindication comes to mind when you consider that back in their early days some critics spoke of KJ in mocking tones, writing them off as nothing more than cartoon doomsayers, who’s laughing now the cartoon seems to be coming to life?
It’s hard to listen to songs such as Wardance or Follow the Leaders without wincing at their desperate topicality, of course you could say KJ were no seers and that everything comes around again eventually or that maybe this is how it always is in some form or another right down through history, I’m not buying that though. In the alternative you can simply surrender to the noise and revel in the fact that you are watching the original line up of a band that absolutely never became its own tribute act, unlike many of their, often worthy, contemporaries. I can only think of maybe Wire who come close, but of course their line up has changed almost inevitably. Tonight we see a display of those many vigorously blended influences that early in their career attained a purity of sound few bands could match, even as that sound shifted and reconfigured over the years and through amended line ups.
There’s something almost comforting about drowning in this vortex of beautiful noise, the precision as each element locks in and plays it’s part is a wonder to behold. No one member seems to dominate or lead, despite clearly being capable of doing just that. Presumably the result of hard won band maturity. New songs and old come and go, Automomous Zone, from most recent album Pylon, with its undulating bass kick, right back to The Wait from that far off debut album, Paul Ferguson’s drums rising above the unstoppable forward motion. It all has a purifying effect, after ninety minutes it feels as if you’ve had a mental exfoliation. And for the record I do like it when Jaz sings as much as he growls which probably puts me in the lightweight end of the spectrum but hey, who cares?
Killing Joke are the musical equivalent of the lone soldier, left out there in the jungle still fighting the war that everyone else thinks is over. Only they were right and everyone else was wrong: the war never ended.
Dancing at the end of the world never felt so good.