Killing Joke

Astoria, London - 14 October 2005


"Sheer musical brilliance"

When the world gets fucked up, as it does sometimes, then the reason bands like Killing Joke exist is a no-brainer. Fitting then that Killing Joke was an unstoppable sonic force in the early 80s - the only cultural solution to the worst excesses of the Thatcher era. Now that there is a dangerously ignorant leader in the White House stomping his unsophisticated views of world order on sovereign states, aided and abetted by his egotistical British counterpart in Number 10, the recent political landscape, to say nothing of the environment, has never warranted a band like Killing Joke as much.

[Killing Joke ticket]It was against this global backdrop that Jaz Coleman's dark machine rolled back into a central London venue and, living up to their reputation as one of "the most devastating live experiences on earth" (hello Classic Rock), set about simultaneously bombarding the audience with sheer musical brilliance and a sensible take home message.

I've got to hold up my hands and confess that (like many others) my first exposure to Killing Joke was via their worldwide breakthrough anthem Love Like Blood. For years I thought that was a terrific song. Then friends introduced me to their bleak but powerful debut album - 1980's Killing Joke. Sheathed in stark black and white anarchy, it contained tracks like Wardance and Requiem. This was an altogether different story from Love Like Blood but one that slotted well into my then industrial-obsessed brain. So it was helpful to have those two friends along with me tonight to provide some sort of context to the evening's events.

[Killing Joke Tour Flyer]For example, trivia like the fact that the minimalist stage presentation (plain black stage with, to the left, the stark white block capitals banner "KILLING", with "JOKE" to the right) was identical to their '82 tour, when they were at their most influential, demonstrated that for Jaz Coleman the only important thing is the music. It seems fair to say that most believe Killing Joke never attained the brutal highs of their debut. But to these untrained ears, the entire evening was one of totally immersive quality noise and ingenious melodies. As the early songs cropped up (and there were a fair few) I recalled them with vague accuracy, but I was able to mentally sing along to anything from that fierce first album. One of my friend's wishes, to hear (for the first time) a live performance of single B-side Psyche was fulfilled - much to his delight.

Of the original lineup only two members remain. Coleman as the front man, ringmaster and heart of Killing Joke and incredibly fluid and elegant guitarist Geordie Walker. The other newer members acquitted themselves perfectly well, the drummer doing a solid job throughout a demanding set. The major difference from those earlier years was that Coleman used to maniacally play keyboards whilst singing. The synth duties have been handed on (impressively to UK industrial underground stalwart Reza Udhin of Inertia - what a dream come true that must have been for him) leaving an older but not much less manic Coleman to stomp around the stage, lean into the audience, screw up his face, contort his body, bay at the sky and, between songs, act at the conscience of everyone in the sold-out, heaving auditorium.

Apart from the sharp and pithy jabs at the aforementioned political suspects, and still not able to suppress his vitriolic for former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (coincidentally in the news that week celebrating her 80th birthday with such luminaries as the Queen and former Tory MP and convict Jeffrey Archer in attendance), my most memorable moment was the two word mantra repeated three times just before launching into Sun Goes Down, in a singsong, nursery rhyme fashion: "Climate Change! Climate Change! Climate Change!".

Even for a non-fan like myself, this was an exhilarating event. The blend of apocalyptic music and acidic political observations stirred up rousing memories of post-punk rebellion in countless small pub gigs during the early 80s when ordinary folk resorted to street protests, even riots to ensure the government of the day knew what the people felt. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Of course, the ideal scenario would be to have none of the political bollocks but still have a potent Killing Joke. Ironically though, you probably can't have one without the other. If putting up with Blair and Bush means we get Jaz Coleman sharp as ever then that's a trade off that even I am willing to accept.

Rob Dyer (with thanks to Matt and Steven for the education)


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