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- Balaam & The Angel by Gary Powell
- Killing Joke Live by Gary Powell
- Return of The Pack by Dave Taylor
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Killing Joke: On Tour With The Old Gods Forty years of fire and fury… The Laugh At Your Peril Tour 2018
House lights dim, stage is lit in deep blue, sheets of white noise, faraway echoes of pagan rhymes, a puff of smoke, a candle burning on a bass amp. The tension mounts..we’re ready. The Gatherers. We’re in Paris, within the wonderfully evocative velvet and mirrors Cabaret Sauvage. It feels like the perfect venue, but in reality it could be anywhere on the tour; this band create their own world, their own free state; language and geography are irrelevant. Killing Joke are in town. Are You Receiving?
This was our first date, of five in total for me, on the Laugh At Your Peril 40th Anniversary world tour, and my first ever Killing Joke gig outside of the UK. It’s been over a year since I last saw them and this brings it all back; an hour and a half later I’m buzzing with energy, drained but content after spending the entire set with hair standing on end, spine tingling and pulse racing. A KJ gig is not just a gig. For me they feel like an exorcism, a purge, blasting the stress and anger out of my head, rearranging and resetting the brain, driving out the demons.
Live, this band has always been a force of nature; never just a run through a set of songs, these are events, significant and charged. Jaz Coleman seems to work the air and energy in the room, to mold and condense it into great globs of emotion and power and cast it straight back at us. When everything aligns, when the feeling hits just right everything seems to coalesce into something electrifying and primal. You can’t help but be dragged into the world of this apocalyptic shaman prophet as he reveals the truths and injustices of the world as he sees it. If that makes it sound negative it’s not; the rage and the anger and the righteous fury plucked out of the songs as well as out of us all in the room, is channeled and altered and twisted; reshaped into a glorious communal outpouring of celebration, magickal and uplifting. We’re worshipping the Old Gods here..whether you know it or not.
There is something special about seeing this, the original line up, as the chemistry between them is palpable. I’ve always marveled at the sound Geordie gets from his guitar, huge expansive sheets of metallic noise that bury themselves in your head, almost orchestral in that there seems to be so much going on. And he’s always appeared nonchalant, as cool as fuck, barely breaking into a sweat as the chaos unfolds around him, as Jaz froths and rages and grimaces alongside him he saws away at his battered guitar with his thoughts seemingly set on a different plane to the rest of us. Big Paul is rock like at the back, providing that solid tribal thump that underpins the sound, the furious heartbeat of the band. How the hell he does that for the duration of a world tour I’ll never know but some arcane power seems to keep him going and the sound he creates is enormous. Youth is an inspiring sight on bass; clearly loving it and looking as if it all still surprises him! He bounces around the stage with a grin on his face laying down quaking visceral bass lines. He’s a virtuoso player – from the earth rocker dub of some of the early tracks, through volcanic industrial aggression and warped mutant disco basslines that really shouldn’t have worked with this music but has always set it aside and made it stand out. They never ever sounded like anyone else; when I first bought one of their records (the ‘Wardance’ single, I was 13) they were just nothing like any of the other punk or post punk bands of the time; there was always a fierce intelligence, political savvy and occult purpose at work in both the lyrics and the music. A genre all to themselves.
After Paris I manage to cram in Bristol, Southampton, Norwich and Oxford before the money and time runs out and the band finish off in London. Early material features heavily as to be expected for this celebration tour but there’s also 3 tracks from the notoriously heavy 2003 eponymous album, a couple from ‘Nightime’ and I’m glad to say the last three records feature as well. Over this period of time they have released enough material that someone’s favourite track will always be missed. The quality never slips and the intensity is there throughout the set.
‘Unspeakable is the perfect start, Jaz emanating menace and setting the tone for the rites to come, ‘European Super State’ is a joyously bouncy devil disco dance track that get sthe crowd jumping, ‘Eighties’ sounds more brutal than ever, harsh and militant. The real surprise in the set for me is ‘Labyrinth’ from the Pandemonium LP, but it slots in perfectly later in the set, churning and gorged with disgust and rage. The power and edginess and intent is present at all of the dates, although each is different. Bristol is brutal and celebratory throughout; the bass heavy and dominant and the crowd abandoned and on fire. There seems to be something with us in the room for ‘The Death and Resurrection Show’ a presence that makes it all feel swampy and murky for a while as if the music is happening in a number of different dimensions at once; strange calm spaces within the assault of noise. Newer tracks ‘Autonomous Zone’, ‘Corporate Elect’ and ‘New Cold War’ (check the fantastic video by long-time collaborator Mike Coles) are played on all the dates I go to and fit perfectly; there has been no mellowing in forty years, these songs are venomous and blistering. The sound at the Guildhall in Southampton – notoriously patchy – is armour plated and solid for once. Oxford, one of the smaller venues, is pandemonium throughout. Some old favourites are ever present: ‘Requiem’ is an inspiring slab of pure controlled anger, ‘Wardance’, always a key part of the ritual, is vicious, ‘Love Like Blood’, the big ‘hit’ from the 80s is towering and huge throughout the tour.
For all the fury and outrage, all that fire and passion, when a Killing Joke set is over the tension drains away and there is an obvious joy amongst the band members; there is a clear bond between them and between them and us – forged in both cases over many years of ups and downs, highs and lows. Jaz can occasionally take an audience to task (Are you medicated? He asks us in Norwich, before telling people to put down their phones! Well said that man!) but when it’s all over, when ‘Pandemonium’ is fading out he is all smiles and huge delighted laughter.
My favourite quote of the tour, from a friend very much at home in a loud punk gig but seeing KJ for the first time, when asked what she thought of them…”Like a near death experience”! Perfect!
Going back to ‘normal’ life is difficult for me after this week and a bit so must be a real shock for the band who have been on the road a long time. As always it’s been liberating, a purification and a release. I’m delighted to see that Killing Joke, such a big part of my life for so long, are not just still at it, gigging and producing new and valid music, but in my opinion better than ever.
Which is why we’ll be there for the next tour as well, taking brief sanctuary from the global madness around us….Gatherers, be ready….
Words: Gary Powell for Enjoy Yourself!
Slightly dodgy phone photos: Dave Taylor for Enjoy Yourself! (Normal service will be resumed..)