We Love Music: Buzzcocks @ The Black Cat 5/11/10

Buzzcocks at The Black Cat 5/11/10
courtesy of Buzzcocks.


Buzzcocks launched the U.S. leg of their “Another…Bites Tour” at the Black Cat on Tuesday night with an exuberant set of their classic, reverb-drenched, pop/punk, sing-a-longs. Since their early-90’s revival, original members Shelley and Diggle have been performing non-stop in the US and UK. Right up there with Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks are one of the longest running and quality-consistent graduates of the original UK Punk class. To mix it up on this tour the band are performing their brilliant first and second albums back-to-back (both released in 1978) along with “other hits”. While album-entirety shows are becoming quite trendy of late (not that I mind), for Buzzcocks I think this dual-album attack is a great move. As their legacy becomes tied more and more to their ability to write amazing singles (as collected on the essential “Singles Going Steady“) this dual album tour is here to remind us that Buzzcocks were also responsible for crafting some brilliant albums; each with an energy flow, sonic imprint, and lyrical themes that deserve their place in rock history as well. Actually Tuesday night’s show did much more than gently remind us of this fact; in typical Buzzcocks pop-roar fashion the show served as a blaring klaxon alarm that made the relevance of “Another Music in a Different Kitchen” and “Love Bites” impossible to ignore.

“The Buzzcocks, 5/11/2010, Washington D.C.” courtesy of baxzy.

I would say that right off the bat the band were all business when they launched into “…Different Kitchen” opener ‘Fast Cars’, but when their business is providing the audience with a pop-fueled good time it is difficult to describe Buzzcocks in such terms. Saying the band seemed serious about their two album strafing run isn’t quite accurate either because they made it look effortless while seeming to have the time of their lives. The band must have been both all business and serious about this undertaking however because their live rendering of both albums was near perfect on Tuesday night.

Lead singer Pete Shelley delivered his horny, awkward lad lyrics with just the right amount of sarcastic inflection and facial expression punctuation to communicate the gist even if you didn’t catch every single word due to the impressive wall of fuzz his and Diggle’s guitars were kicking out. Shelley has this amazing high-pitched singing voice that somehow does cut through all that racket which made it even better when he gave the crowd an exaggerated wink or eye-roll to let us in on his lyrical jokes. Every time I see Steve Diggle perform it puts a smile on my face. He physically plays guitar like he is in The Who; he’s all dramatic pick hold over-his-head before a major riff, guitar-chest parallels, and strum-arm pinwheels. His frantic, energetic guitar theatrics are amplified by the biggest smile I have ever seen on a musician’s face. Diggle’s smile is that of a man who is thrilled to be playing live on stage and it is completely infectious. Between Shelley’s good humor and Diggle’s massive grin the audience had no choice but to have a great time.

Shelley and Diggle’s dual guitar formula is a thing of beauty to watch live. As on their albums, it is often difficult to tell who is playing rhythm and who is playing lead. The two switch roles constantly behind the ever-present sheet of electric hum. That said Diggle did have plenty of guitar-hero moments on Tuesday; the high-point being an incredibly bad-ass solo during ‘Nothing Left’ that (I kid you not) elicited a collective cheer from all of the ladies in the house. The band’s current rhythm section of Tony Barber on bass and Danny Farrant on drums did a great job of holding down the structure of Shelley’s pop-punk tales and Diggle’s guitar freak-outs. I thought Farrant really shined on the drum heavy tunes like ‘Moving Away From The Pulsebeat’, ‘Late for the Train’, and ‘Walking Distance’.

Personal highlights of the night were many. I loved that when the band finished the last song on “Another Music in a Different Kitchen” they actually waited a moment and then played the album’s instrumental coda. So many bands skip little flourishes like that when they play a full album live. I remember listening to “…Different Kitchen” a few days before and assuming they would skip it. I am thrilled that they didn’t. I thought that ‘Love Battery’, ‘You Tear Me Up’, and the immortal ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ were all great renditions. Hearing ‘Nostalgia’ and ‘Fiction Romance’ live were particularly special as I love those tunes but had never heard them live before. Shelley mentioned that ‘I Need’ was making its North American debut on Tuesday which lent a special air to that manic punk classic.

Buzzcocks finished up their main set with the an insane live version of ‘Late For The Train’. Of all the times I’ve seen Buzzcocks play, I have never heard them noiser or more powerful. It was the kind of special treat that only happens at these full-album shows when a band dusts off catalog tracks they rarely play and unleash perfectly rehearsed and amped up versions of them. I think the mix of nostalgia and introspection presented by playing these two albums inspired Shelley and Diggle. I have seen Buzzcocks many times over the years and have always enjoyed their shows but I have never seen them perform quite as good as they did on Tuesday night.

* a note I made to myself immediately after the show to remind myself how damn fun it was when it came time to write it up.

Michael splits his free time between defending the little guy and championing the underdog. He has been haunting the concert halls, dive bars, and greasy spoons of DC for the last 16 years. His interests include live rock music, researching obscure military/political conflicts, and good hamburgers. He is a friendly grump, has wisdom beyond his years, and is on a life-long quest to attain music nirvana. Follow him on Twitter if you dare!

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