JAZ COLEMAN is a seer, a madman, a prophet, a charlatan, a button pusher. He’s a modern day Frankenstein, but his maker is not some crazed scientist with a bucket of bolts and a pile of cadavers hunkered down in some clandestine laboratory; he’s been created by the world, by you and me and the actions of all of us. The shadow that Coleman and the rest of KILLING JOKE has thrown upon the music landscape since their emergence in the very late ’70s is long, jagged, and vastly dark. They were among the first to fuse the bristling outrage of punk rock to the grim beats of the industrial scene, and among the most successful.
Underscoring this influence was the recent bonus companion disc to this year’s top-notch Absolute Dissent (entitled Absolute Respect) featured bands such as METALLICA, HELMET, FOO FIGHTERS and NINE INCH NAILS paying tribute to the work of Killing Joke that inspired their future efforts. This collection of songs was the result of the original rhythm section (YOUTH on bass, PAUL FERGUSON on drums) re-joining Coleman and his everlasting guitar sidekick GEORDIE WALKER, all four brought together at the funeral of the late PAUL RAVEN who took on bass duties when YOUTH would cycle in and out of the lineup.
This sort of exercise can be a tricky bit to pull off; much like a heavyweight boxer hanging on too long and getting his face rearranged by a series of schlubs in the post-twilight of his career, a band risks tarnishing their legacy with a batch of sub-par songs and half-hearted performances. The comfortably full house got the other end of the spectrum, a commanding performance from a band that still flexes considerable muscle. The set list was overloaded to the point of toppling with songs from either the newest record, or the debut, but in retrospect that’s not too surprising given the original lineup angle. The throbbing, mechanical “Requiem” and the synth/guitar dance of “Bloodsport” got the crowd revved up and ready to go, and both sides of the early “Wardance” single were lovingly doled out; all but three songs of the self-titled record were played, and sadly “Complications” was written as part of the encore but scratched.
Six songs from the newest record were also played, the ethereal dub of “Ghost of Ladbroke Grove” shuffling against the unbridled optimism of “In Excelsis,” and the title track obliterated anyone standing near point of impact. Dense, driving, howling – Coleman’s extroverted theatrics, facial makeup, vocal presence and the power of the band behind him was a thing of beauty. For the most part the crowd was intently taking in the show in their own personal space, but boundaries were blurred and bodies were bumped during the 1-2 smackdown of “Eighties” and “The Great Cull.” The former has a wider profile since as a predecessor to NIRVANA‘s “Come As You Are,” it bears a striking resemblance. The latter came on with the subtlety of a Panzer tank, and is further evidence that Killing Joke has plenty more petrol in the tank. That’s a welcome sign.
Boston’s BLACK HELICOPTER drew opening duties and drew a mixed reaction from the crowd who got there in time to see them. It seemed a split between enjoyment of the classic early ’90s dirty guitar / heavy bottom end of labels like Touch and Go or Amphetamine Reptile (not too surprising given singer TIM SHEA‘s stint with early Sub Pop band GREEN MAGNET SCHOOL or ZACK LAZAR with KUDGEL; another clear sign of their long-time involvement with the Boston scene was a nice homage on their kick drum head for the late BILLY RUANE), or others bored with a sound that hasn’t progressed in a decade and a half. The band themselves was too far deprecating and almost apologetic for having to open before such a legendary band; they may want to inject some more enthusiasm into their band if they expect others to follow. Case in point, their site hasn’t been updated in over two years, and they’ve got a new record out.