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Arts and Entertainment

Buzzcocks @ Club Nokia 06/05/10

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All photos by Bobzilla for LAist.

The Buzzcocks’ Saturday night appearance at Club Nokia, featuring a scheduled run-through of their first two albums in their entirety, reached its emotional climax about fifteen minutes into their set, as guitarist Pete Shelley led the band through the military/ waltz beat of “Sixteen” and intoned the lines:

“And I wish I was sixteen again/ Cause things would be such fun
All the things you do and that are said/ Well they’re much more fun than when you’re twenty-wa-wa-wa-wa-one!”

This is really the point of these “classic album” nights, isn’t it? To take us back to another time, when rock and roll moments in life were fewer and farther between, and thus had meaning. We want to sing along with the songs we loved when we were young, in order, without having to sit through “one more from the new album”. Even though in this particular case, the “new albums” have been generally pretty good for the last fifteen years, there’s no way they can write another album that we all listened to while growing up. When you get right into a record at that tender age, even the obscure album tracks buried between the hits are meaningful, and it’s always nice to hear them given equal time on stage so many years later.

In the case of the Buzzcocks’ Another Music In A Different Kitchen and Love Bites, the killer to filler ratio is awfully high, and even the arty, out-of-character moments like “Moving Away From The Pulsebeat” and “Late For The Train” are played with a savage momentum that fits them right in with the rest. But when they break into a crowd favorite like “Real World” or “Ever Fallen In Love”, the temperature on the floor goes up a few degrees. One goofball in a red and blue striped shirt keeps flinging himself onto unsuspecting passerby, then falling flat on his face, until one burly recipient of his affections kicks him while he’s down and orders, “Don’t get up!”

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But the relatively inocuous mayhem on the floor is no match for the sounds emanating from the stage. The band have honed these songs over the last three weeks on the road, and are razor-sharp, playing with massive power. Pete Shelley remains glued front and center for the duration, while at stage left, Steve Diggle strikes birdman poses, points at the sky, and periodically does Pete Townshend -style leaps off the ground. Bassist Chris Remmington and drummer Danny Farrant fill their respective roles with enthusiasm and reverence, doing their best to keep the locomotive on track and on time.

Though the Buzzcocks practically invented pop-punk on these albums, they also possessed an artfulness - as opposed to artsyness - that distinguished them from their many imitators. The songs are simple and spirited enough that your average football hooligan can sing along to them, but they’re also clever in a non-obvious way, filled with witty touches like the hyperactive bass solo that drives the center of “I Need”, or the minimalist treasure “ESP”, with its single guitar line repeating endlessly, mercilessly through the duration of the song. They crystallize everything that’s great about both pop and punk in the same breath, and their material has aged gracefully because they write about themes that remain relevant to people as they get older- love longed for, love lost, and very rarely, love attained. Along the way you also get random, grumpy observations on topics like fast cars (“they’re so depressing/ going round and round”), the pain of having to endure someone’s poor lovemaking habits (“you’re noisier than a motorway”), the futility of self-help instruction (“if I only I had a mechanic/ then somehow I know I’d pull through”), lack of respect for the time-space continuum (“about the future I can only reminisce”) and such. It’s like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm with more mushy parts.

The fact that nearly all of their incredible love songs were written by a gay man completely went over the heads of most of their audience for years, because the themes are so universal, nobody ever noticed there was no “she” or “her” anywhere in the lyrics. The ambiguous yet insistent voice Shelley developed on songs like “Fiction Romance” and “Nothing Left” had a significant influence on their hometown juniors the Smiths and New Order, the kind of voice that young people instantly recognize as the truth. And it was great to hear that voice intact again - Shelley was apparently beset by throat problems at the last show I saw in 2006 or so, because I honestly wasn’t expecting him to be this good. But when they found the vibe of those old songs, they nurtured it into something way beyond a rote run-through of old material.

When it came time for the encore, we would certainly have indulged them if they’d wanted to play anything at all - new stuff, old cover tunes, Flag Of Convenience songs, a DJ set, anything. Instead they came back and barrelled through most of the single A-sides from the same period - aka the first half of the first side of Singles Going Steady, aka most of the best-known songs in their catalog - and sent an already-peaking crowd into hysterical fits. But even in the midst of this glorious give-‘em-what-they-want fest, Diggle took the Pete Townshend impersonation to new heights by dragging out the end of “Harmony In My Head”, keeping the riff going quietly while spitting lyrics, seemingly off the top of his head, for several minutes before finally returning to the third verse. It was a rare break from the program, where the performances were consistently very close to the familiar recordings, and a welcome, momentary change of pace. But what a rush of adrenaline was waiting for us, as it was followed by “Promises”, “Love You More”, “What Do I Get” and the final rocket-fuel burst of “Orgasm Addict,” sending us home spent.