Show Review: Buzzcocks @ Royale 9.27.16
by Terence Cawley (Biology), published October 4th 2016
Buzzcocks may not have been the first punk band to write love songs, but they were the first punk band to write love songs that sounded like punk songs. While Ramones used ‘50s girl-group saccharin to keep feelings at a safely ironic distance, Buzzcocks set their brutally incisive lyrics about relationships to the same power-chord pummeling that accompanied their songs about alienation. That alone makes Buzzcocks one of first-wave punk’s most influential bands, with the entire pop-punk genre their most obvious beneficiaries. So when Buzzcocks came to Royale on a tour marking the 40th anniversary of their formation, there was no question that the snotty Brits had earned the right to celebrate.
Only a bunch of grizzled Boston lifers like The Welch Boys could pull off an opening set so stubbornly devoted to old-fashioned punk. Every song had a hollered chorus tailor-made for rousing pub shoutalongs, and in true confrontational punk tradition, one of the catchiest refrains went “Pete Townshend, he’s a pervert/Keep him away from the children!” The Philly boys in Residuels were even better, effortlessly running the gamut from slow-burning grooves to revved-up twist-n-shout while liberally coating the whole shebang in garage-rock grease.
The first question on anyone’s mind upon hearing that an iconic band from decades passed is hitting the road again is whether or not said band has “still got it.” Fortunately, in Buzzcocks’ case, the answer is firmly in the affirmative. Pete Shelley’s adenoidal yet melodic voice sounded miraculously similar to the old records, lead guitarist Steve Diggle played fast and fierce, and the anonymous new guys on drums and bass held up their end of the bargain just fine. Stamina certainly wasn’t a problem; they charged through their 21-song set so rapidly that the band would introduce the next song while still holding the last chord of the current song. Diggle was particularly energetic, gesticulating wildly to the crowd after each strum and lingering comically long on pick slides. If he hadn’t had to sit down for a few numbers mid-set to catch his breath, it would’ve been easy to forget that the man was 61.
After charging out of the gate with two zippy classics, “Boredom” and “Fast Cars,” Buzzcocks played “Totally from the Heart,” one of only five post-1970s songs on the backwards-looking setlist. The strict approach to quality control paid off, as the new material didn’t seem out of place sandwiched between tunes from the band’s peak early years. Tempos remained consistently peppy and pogo-friendly throughout, with the battle-ready drums and snaking guitar lines of “Moving Away from the Pulsebeat” and the extended Diggle anti-solo during “Nothing Left” offering the evening’s only breathers, along with friendly reminders that Buzzcocks are perfectly capable of switching up their sound when the mood strikes. While audience enthusiasm never wavered, it was cuts from the deathless 1979 compilation Singles Going Steady that got the biggest reaction, from the anxious “Autonomy” to the lovelorn “Promises.” For the four-song encore, Buzzcocks wisely chose to string together four of their most dynamite Singles Going Steady gems, and the result was the most fun mosh pit I’ve ever had the pleasure of joining. You can no longer hear Ramones play “Blitzkrieg Bop,” Sex Pistols play “God Save the Queen” or The Clash play “London Calling,” but you can still hear Buzzcocks play “What Do I Get?” into “Orgasm Addict” into “Ever Fallen in Love” into “Harmony in My Head.” It was every bit as incredible as it sounds, and anyone who claims to care about punk owes it to themselves to catch Buzzcocks live while they still can.