If Duran Duran, with their preposterous haircuts and callow celebration of conspicuous consumption, achieved the apogee of 80’s excess by attempting (and failing) to imagine Chic combined with Joy Division, the dark shadow that preceded them, the anti-pop monster locked in the attic, were Killing Joke. Songs about alienation by and for the alienated. Tribal, cultish, dark and caustic, the Joke provided a soundtrack for glue sniffers and cider drinkers, the underclass to the bequiffed patrons of the coke mountain and the tequila sunrise lake. A feel bad band for feel bad times.
It is perhaps not surprising that they were both reviled and loved and whilst mainstream success proved elusive (despite the brief aberration of Love Like Blood) they gained a fanatical following and influence. Name-checked by Nirvana (whose Come As You Are plundered the riff from Eighties and whose drummer, Dave Grohl, paid his retrospective dues by temporarily joining the band), Ministry and the Revolting Cocks (further personnel exchanges), Trent Reznor and Steve Albini, not to mention Metallica, Korn and countless covers, including Nouvelle Vague’s loungecore take on Psyche, Killing Joke’s military beats, bombast and catharsis formed a template for Industrial rock’s ugliest incarnations and the self pitying scowl of Grunge.
25 years on the original lineup, singer Jaz Coleman, Geordie, guitar, Paul Ferguson, drums and prolific producer Youth (bass) are reunited. Though new material is in the works, the two shows at the Columbia Club focussed respectively on presenting in their entirety the first two albums, their eponymous debut and its sequel What’s THIS For…! and (on the second night) – Pandemonium and the early singles.
Marching on the spot in a jumpsuit and black eyeliner, Coleman mugged and mimed his way through a set of bellowed invective and nihilistic tantrum. Evoking the rhetorical gestures of a bankrupt politician Coleman tried, and somewhat succeeded, in summoning the demons of paranoia and reaction from a crowd of paunchy ex-Autonomen. Despite their disdain for second wave punkers, their formula of football terrace anthems, aggro/dance metal spiked with a jagged little dose of P.I.L and On-U dub, sounded very much of its time, dated, ugly and rather dull. Surprisingly it also seemed heavily indebted to The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
Coleman remains a bulging eyed cracked actor for whom the protestations of “We mean it, man!”, the endless, tiresome escalation of rage into aesthetic, still provide a raison detré but the sense of someone picking at the scabs of old grievances, grown old anticipating an apocalypse that, forever, remains just around the corner, was palpable and ultimately wearisome.
Introducing Eighties, the crowd was informed that the band had an encounter with a psychic who told them that the recently departed Raven (who replaced Youth on bass in the early 80’s ) was doing fine. They told him to “give Kurt a slap if you see him”. This anecdote exemplifies the attitude of a band for whom bitter outsiderism was always an inevitability, the sound of old scores long since settled exhumed for plague nostalgia from the perspective of relatively comfortable middle age.
Like a drunk muttering angrily to himself on the street this ultimately remains a joke without a punchline, a series of shallow rhetorical gestures and empty threats – best just to shrug sympathetically and walk away.