Tag Archives: Killing Joke

In concert: Killing Joke (Toronto; April 24, 2013)

Killing Joke think this is music to dance to

(click images to enlarge)

Ah, damnit, there was a whiff of why us? hanging in the air during Killing Joke’s Toronto show this week (Wednesday, April 24th). British legacy bands only swing through town every three or four years, so the “missing drummer/ill singer/abbreviated setlist” trifecta isn’t the kind of parlay a betting fan might place with much enthusiasm.

I’ve gobs of affection for Joke on so many classic symbiotic levels – for the artistic temperament to close shop after a brush with mainstream temptation, for the original quartet reuniting in 2007 for all the right reasons, for making increasingly wicked records over the past decade – but drummer Paul Ferguson’s decision to skip the Montreal and Toronto shows to tend to an art gallery event rankled. From the band that refers to its shows as tribal gatherings and closed its 2006 LP with a song about fan-band synergy (called “Gratitude,” for crissakes), this wasn’t especially comradely. It’s an 11-date tour, Paul. Come on.

And when Jaz Coleman issued his lone spoken address after just one song – “Well, my voice is completely gone. But we will play on.“ – the Joke swerved towards the farcical. But hey, you attend enough rock shows, you’ll catch some from depleted crews. Toronto’s wasn’t a limp performance: Killing Joke is a rock ’n’ roll rottweiler. But as an ipso facto statement, the Lee’s Palace crowd got short-changed.

Killing Joke chop-chop the setlist

 

Now, who among us hasn’t wondered, What if Jaz Coleman ever got a sore throat? Here’s what that’s like. Pangs of dejection from the singer at several turns: after a note he couldn’t hammer home; by clutching motions made at his throat; in exercising his field general’s authority to begin cherry-picking from the setlist 35 minutes in. After eight songs Jaz paused. Walked over to a song list taped to the bass amp stack. I typed uh-oh into my notes: the great cull was underway. The first song after the pause was the closest thing to a pop tune in the roll call – “Eighties” – Jaz only managing foggy shouts in place of his usual melodic barking. But then “Whiteout” followed, his vocal hard and clear over the stampeding industrial blur. Next up, “Asteroid,” which made me laugh, because it’s the roughest ride imaginable for a suffering singer. You’d forgive him if he’d taken the soft option, called for  “A Southern Sky” or one of Joke’s quasi-instrumentals, but he chose paint-peeling intensity, throwing a defiant middle finger at the common cold. I do not recall him taking a sip of anything during the entire ordeal. Push, push, struggle.

I saw the setlist later. They’d planned 19 songs. We’d get 14.

Economy of movement: I once saw George Foreman score a KO off a flick of the wrist. Geordie Walker could probably play with his in a cast. His chording hits with Foreman-like force, yet he hardly moves. Lack of trad rock posing is his allure. It’s absorbing theatre, this measured, minimalist input producing such jaggedly plangent results.

Killing Joke kamikaze 'til they get there

 

The production detail in recorded Killing Joke often gets lost in the murky acoustics of small clubs. I’ve heard clearer mixes at Lee’s Palace from bands with three guitarists, so maybe the house sound just couldn’t figure out Walker’s cement mixer grinding. Similarly, Youth’s low and heavy basslines provided momentum without much definition. Still, the attack’s as compelling as a steamroller. On the groove tracks – “Wardance,” “Bloodsport,” “The Wait” – standing still is not an option. Cue the slam dancers. And “Madness” is transportive, perhaps the perfect Killing Joke song. Gripped by dissonant guitar howls, a loping bass run, tribal drumming and shouted pass-the-hat vocals, its deployment of powerful rock elements into such a punishing – but spacious – quilt of sound is amazing, almost Who-like in how it highlights individual brilliance without actual soloing. The madness could’ve gone on twice as long and we’d’ve been the better for it, what with our blistered cochleas and jellied knees. Rottweilers.

After the one-song encore, a pulsating “Pssyche” introduced (and co-sung) by Youth, Jaz extended a sincere Namaste to the crowd and left the final bows to his mates. The 62-minute, pock-marked gig won’t be a bootleg favourite, but it was a pretty ballsy effort from a determined crew. I sure hope the art gallery thing went well, too.

Props to Pitchshifter drummer and Joke associate Jason Bowld for sitting in for Ferguson. He doesn’t have the dance-beat pep implicit in Ferguson’s playing, but he’s clearly familiar with the band’s canon, and was plenty heavy. As ever, Reza Udhin handled the dirty synths, and also assumed Ferguson’s “Madness” vocal part.

The dropped songs were “Sun Goes Down,” Money Is Not Our God” and “Corporate Elect” in the main set; “Change” and “The Death & Resurrection Show” were intended for the encore.

I also reviewed a Killing Joke concert in 2010.

Killing Joke setlist, April 24, 2013

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Add some music to your day #15: New stuff, May 2012

Thoughts on new music from May, wrapped up in a tidy package. I bet these people don’t get much direct sunlight.

DYLAN ETTINGER – Lifetime Of Romance

Variations on The Human League circa Fast Product: dour synthesizer music twisted into recognizable form via a sneaky pop streak. At its best (“Disparager,” “Arco Iris”), Lifetime Of Romance grooves – not by being especially clubby or danceable, but by possessing a rhythmic centre that holds the fort while Ettinger lobs sore-throated, son-of-Todd Baechle wails into the abyss. Nobody’s idea of a gifted singer, Ettinger’s brief stanzas – verses as mantras, really – are another instrument in the mix, towered over by mountains of reverb and Moog bursts, but they’re hardly throwaway, and occasional detours into falsetto are startling and even a little amusing. There’s an urgency in the vocals that’s hard to dislike, which is sort of how I feel about Lifetime Of Romance in general: it’s dark music – think those fiery orange/red/purple Manhattan skies Spider-Man swung through in the ‘60s Ralph Bakshi cartoons – but it’s got a brawny energy that belies the initial impression of cold stasis. “Maude” embodies this best: icy pads hover for four minutes with guest saxophone providing a rattling human counterpoint to Ettinger’s burbling synthscape, before a creaky “Nightclubbing” CompuRhythm pattern refocuses the song for the second four-minute segment, an anguished Disintegration-like essay on sundered domesticity.

 

KILLING JOKE – MMXII

Here’s the force of nature that is Killing Joke, back for a second helping with the reconstituted original lineup and firing on every damn cylinder. The Mayan calendar tolls for Jaz Coleman as Ragnarok did 30 years prior; whether that leads to tomfoolery this time ‘round (read: band-splintering skedaddling to Iceland to escape the maaaadness) only time’ll tell, but while we wait, enjoy this doomsday soundtrack. Loads of good stuff here. In an era marked by stifling compression on hard music, top-dog mixing here grants all sorts of room for the arrangements to roam. Every major facet of the complex Killing Joke sound’s accounted for: ominous dub-throb, galloping dance-punk, metallic brawling, even a healthy return to Brighter Than A Thousand Suns-style synthpop. It’s not scattershot variety for variety’s sake, either: MMXII plays like a custom-built festival bill of likemindeds edited down to an invigorating 50-minute highlight package. Coleman adapts his singing accordingly: I haven’t heard his ice-cool “Love Like Blood” croon so much in years, but it sounds terrific amid the sphincter-clenched punk yowls and full-throated bellowing. Whatever he takes for sore throats, I want. My own preference for “Pssyche”/”Bloodsport”-styled dance music is covered by “Rapture,” “Colony Collapse” and “Trance,” excellent tunes in varying rhythmic settings (piledriving, swinging and chugging, respectively); those with a yen for sprawling, half-speed Joke are well served by great album bookends in “Pole Shift” and “On All Hallow’s Eve.” Joke’s politics are all over the record: “FEMA Camp” essays rumoured American-based internment camps for high-risk citizens; several songs outline environmental failings and technological overreliance in the face of stiff corporate rule. The lyric sheet’s filled with URLs for further reading. That the links will evolve or disappear entirely over time encapsulates the Joke conundrum: learn and act now or surrender this toe-hold. MMXII’s grim and critical outlook isn’t rounded out by scepticism – “marvel at the mysteries of quantum immortality” and “bring gifts and spirits, good wine…light up the graveyards to show how much we all care” sound like words by those who intend to dance around the bonfires while they wait out the apocalypse. That glimmer of sunlight delivers MMXII from the stigma of single-minded browbeating. All in all, a vivid, arresting album.

 

LIONESS – The Golden Killer

The two guys wear full face-covering skulls onstage, which is impressively ludicrous. I don’t mean to laugh at Lioness because it’s possible they’re dead serious about this, and I started listening to pop in an era defined by Adam Ant’s “ridicule is nothing to be scared of” mantra. Still, #Lulz. Compelling in controlled amounts, the music of Lioness more-or-less picks up where controller.controller left off in 2006 (Jeff Scheven and Ronnie Morris were members): regimented, vigorous death-disco that sounds great if you walk in halfway through one of their support slots with other stuff on your mind, but lacks the creative panache to withstand the rigors of an LP. It’s not like I can pick out any rotten songs, but The Golden Killer has as much variety as a steakhouse’s prix fixe menu after last seating. The girl singer makes an impressive sound – lion on a hot tin roof – which is I imagine much easier without wearing a skull.

 

CRAFT SPELLS – Gallery

A mildly disappointing EP that seeks to add a little punch to Idle Labor’s pastel-hued Factory Records post-punk, but doesn’t quite have the songs to finish the transition of power. Among the moves:  Justin Vallesteros no longer sounds like Ian Curtis at the other end of a long tunnel – he’s got a better voice than most of his Captured Tracks brethren and he’s wisely pushed it up in the mix. And even though the bass playing’s less propulsive than it was on Idle Labor, the momentum’s earned back with everything else in crisper colours. Although attractively dreamy, Gallery is also a little lazy (consider “Still Left With Me”’s overreliance on an unadventurous riff, and the next track’s very similar chorus melody). The clear highlight – the aptly named “Burst” – mixes thrusting bass, chiming guitars, a direct drum attack and a beachy vibe that wouldn’t be out of place on New Order’s Technique. (No chorus, either, and I didn’t notice ‘til about the fifth time through. Nice one.) But for all the careful cropping and composition, Gallery’s edges have curled up in the sun.

In concert: Killing Joke (Toronto; December 7, 2010)

Few acts retain the punching power of their earliest days, but Killing Joke‘s luminescent fury has worn especially well through three decades of near-constant service (and about seven rhythm sections). That 2010 occasioned the first tour by the founding quartet in 28 years was reason enough to pack earplugs and book a babysitter. Because these guys can pound it. Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre bore witness Tuesday night (December 7, 2010).

Considering the Pavlovian response to the promise of a date with the founding fathers of any noteworthy band, it’s no surprise the crowd was baying in the tear-down time between the local opener, Lioness, and the imminent appearance of the Joke. The fiftysomething guy in front of me sure as hell came prepared. Timing whatever he was ingesting for maximum efficiency, he tripped out early, and laid into several people before security wearied of the inevitable cause-effect and hauled him out of the club. Joke’s on you.

Blessed though Killing Joke may be with a catalog of consistent quality, the set observed the hourglass model of the veteran band on a non-nostalgia trip: lots of new songs, lots of very old songs, and little in between. All but four hailed from either the first two LPs or the newest (2010’s very good Absolute Dissent), smart arithmetic made even more appealing by the inclusion of the twin towers from Killing Joke’s brief mid-’80s pop chart phase.

It would’ve been understandable if “Love Like Blood” and “Eighties” were passed over in deference to bassist Youth‘s non-involvement with the recorded versions, but singer Jaz Coleman had purpose in mind. After the strident “Tomorrow’s World” unsealed the casket, he effectively ripped it open in homage to former bassist Paul Raven, referencing his 2007 death and his place in Joke lore. “Love Like Blood” may seem contrary to Killing Joke’s oft-noted hardness, but it’s more a case of ingredients rearranged: insistent drums, subtle keyboards underpinning melodies played out on shattering, staccato guitar chords, a throbbing bass pulse anchoring the engine, a declamatory vocal delivered at peak volume. But because “Love Like Blood” got significant radio play here and made the top 20 in the U.K., it’s a signature piece for much of the audience, and tonight, fired by the common knowledge that Raven’s death begat the current new/old Killing Joke, it was celebratory. Its do-it-early-and-do-it-right excellence put the room in a great mood, and that carried the band for the rest of the night.

With an auxiliary player handling Coleman’s keyboard parts, the singer stayed centre-stage, hulking about in one of Pete Townshend’s old boilersuits, clenching his fists and raccoon-mascara’d eyes with equal intensity. The rest of Killing Joke is essentially a nimble death-disco power trio. As such, their influence is manifest, and now-standard blog-reference standbys “Wardance,” “Change” and “The Wait” were faithfully reproduced. The band shuttled easily between the starker, sparer vintage material and the pushier, fuller, modern fare. Absolute Dissent‘s laudable variety touches on nearly aspect of the Joke’s career, and tonight’s picks brought metal, dub and darkwave to the party.

Drummer Paul Ferguson‘s showcase album, 1981’s What’s This For…, was represented by “This Is Madness” and “The Fall Of Because,” lumbering, jackhammer songs punctuated by angry shouts from all four members and some of guitarist Geordie Walker‘s most unhinged playing. At the heart of the cacophony, Walker never broke a sweat. Floating about the stage like a wraith, his lead hand never progressing past a stylized strum, he coaxed witheringly hot sounds from the same ’50s-vintage, hollow-bodied Gibson ES-295 he’s used since the band’s first days. Killing Joke’s thundering melodic mass occasionally turned the PA to jelly, and The Phoenix groaned a few times under the full-court attack. Expectations met, the crowd roared its approval. And the band played on.