Monday, April 27, 2015

Buzzcocks in Baltimore: Many Happy Returns


Buzzcocks: The boys are back in town

Buzzcocks @ Baltimore Soundstage
w/The Residuels, Expert Alterations
April 18, 2015

Touring in support of their latest release, The Way (Pledge Music, 2014) - their ninth album over the course of a celebrated 40-year career (1976-81, 1989-present) and the first featuring new material since 2006's Flat-Pack Philosophy - Buzzcocks stopped in Baltimore on April 18 for their first show here in four years (though they did visit Washington, D.C.'s Black Cat just last September). This was a real treat because Baltimore was one of only three East Coast stops for the fab foursome, who played New York's Irving Plaza on April 16 and Asbury Park, NJ's Stone Pony on April 17, before closing out their tour at the Baltimore Soundstage. (I suspect Buzzcocks fanboy Dave Cawley is responsible for Charm City's inclusion on this brief tour, thanks to his overtures at the Black Cat club to Buzzcocks drummer Danny Farrant to "please come back to Baltimore.")

Banksy-inspired cover of Buzzcocks' "The Way" CD (2014)

They came, they rocked, and they conquered the crowd, among whom I spotted friends like Jim Moon, the ace rock photographer; Mike and Gail Maxwell; Donna Honneman and Larry Doering (enjoying a "Senior Rockers" night out); Sharon Rudolf (splitting her time between Buzzcocks and, next door at Ram's Head Live, The Ravens); Tim Finnerty (The Krudz); media maven Greg Brazeale and his pal Joe Maravi; model-scenester MaryAnne Tom; nouveau riche punk philanthropist Adolf Kowalski, vintage Fiat sportscar-lover Charlie Gatewood, and Ed Linton - all of Thee Katatonix fame; artist-rocker Alex Fine (Garage Sale, Thee Lexington Arrows, alexfine.com) and his lovely wife, who were on hand to sell AF's spectacular Buzzcocks posters (which Baltimore Soundstage used on their web site). Chick Veditz (of Chick's Legendary Records fame) was also rumored to be there, but I must have missed him.

Buzzcocks poster by Alex Fine (alexfine.com)

I had never been to the Baltimore Soundstage and didn't know what to expect. In fact, I don't know most local venues other than my familiars, the Ottobar (or "Ahh-toe bah" in Buzzcocks drummer Darry Farrant's patois) and the Metro Gallery, because I don't really like going to see live music save for a few select artists.

Machine-Gun Etiquette in Clubland
You see, though I used to play in bands and go to a lot of shows in my (wasted) youth, I am not what one would call a "rock guy." Truth be told, I'd rather be in the SkyBox Suite sipping Merlot than down rubbing elbows with the sweaty, beer-soaked drones that inhabit the mosh pit. Comfort appeals to me much more than Street Cred. Slam-dancing especially does not appeal to me, given my brittle build and knack for attracting spilled drinks all over my wardrobe (I only like rugby when it's on TV!). Besides, you have to wear earphones to hear anything (an irony seemingly lost on concert lovers - that one goes to hear loud, live music and ends up blocking most of it out!) and run the risk of getting a sore throat from screaming over the din of music to converse with your friends. And, in the old days, one had to also contend with drunken idiots burning your clothes with their ciggies - an "analog tobacco" problem solved by the emergence of e-cigarette "vaping."

Tonight was no exception to my exceptions. I literally couldn't understand one word said to me when I walked in and saw various friends and acquaintances at the show, who came up and made gestures while I feigned comprehension and smiled. In other words, it was kind of like being on the reference desk at the library fielding questions (and the occasional threat) from John (and Johanna) Q. Public. It didn't help that the Baltimore Soundstage - a cavernous (albeit comfortable) arena comparable to an urban cow palace (in fact, it reminded me of this year's StanStock Music Festival, which was held at the Timonium Fairgrounds Exhibition Hall) - was sonically challenged, with music bouncing and reverbing off the walls.

Opening Salvos
But, after I put my ear plugs in and my lobes adjusted to the din, I was pleasantly surprised by the sound of the opening band. They didn't suck! In fact, neither of the two opening bands sucked - a rarity at recent Buzzcocks shows stateside.


Expert Alterations: Fashionable indie-pop

The jingly-jangly Expert Alterations, a local indie-pop trio, dressed and sounded great. One guy had a nice nest of hair that reminded me of a cross between Echo & The Bunnymen's Ian McCullough and the high-coiffed guy in the Jesus and Mary Chain. Their duds were polka-dot friendly and the drummer had his kit set up in the front of the stage, which you rarely see. (As a former drummer, I like to see that; though as a former suck-ass drummer, I preferred to sit as far back from the audience as possible - the better to dodge the tomatoes hurled my way!). They cite The Fall, TV Personalities and The Wedding Present as influences, which count as impressive references on anybody's Rock Resume.

Besides their retro-rock group influences, these guys also like retro-music formats. Both they and The Residuels had only cassette tapes of their music for sale, a trend I've noticed has replaced the previous fad of local groups releasing singles on vinyl (which seems to be almost passe now, except on Record Store Day). (I personally don't understand this trend - don't bands want people to be able to easily access their songs? Isn't a CD or .mp3 going to reach a wider audience than the select few who still have boom boxes and record players? What's next - 8-track releases? A 78 rpm revival?) But I quibble about technicalities...these guys are worth checking out on Facebook and at Bandcamp. (OK, if you purchase their cassette at Bandcamp, it includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC, and more. I still think it's easier to plop a CD in the car stereo or laptop, though!)

Philly's Residuels

The Residuels (photo by Adela Loconte for imposemagazine,com)

The Residuels were a hard-rocking trio whose lead singer-guitarist wore a black hat and reminded me of the pre-Delicious Pies Rodney from The Glenmont Popes.The Man in the Black Hat also wears cool t-shirts of retro West Coast punk bands like Crime and The Wipers. The bass player was a tall, sullen study hunched over his Fender bass with an inertia that seemed to cry "Oh, bother," while the energetic drummer had perfect hair that bobbed and weaved across his face like Ringo merrily banging away with The Fab Four. Even Alex Fine commented that the drummer's hair reminded him of the pompadour he created for his Buzzcocks Fine-art poster (which in turn was inspired by his own jet black mane). They too sold cassettes of their tunes, but I was most impressed by their Simpsonized t-shirts (as shown below).

Simpsons-style Residuels t-shirts

The Residuels sound - which they characterize as garage punk -was thick and heavy, like a Philly cheesesteak. Check 'em out at residuels.com, Bandcamp, and Facebook.

Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, or: Into the Heart of Darkness
Though I hung in the back for the opening acts (looking through Charlie Gatewood's car-porn pics of his '60s Fiat convertible on his cell phone), I moved up as the Buzzcocks set loomed. My beloved, Amy Linthicum, is a Front Row Seeker (I'm much more an "In the Back" fan), and that's where she and our companions Dave Cawley and (his beloved) Gina Houten had cut a path through the ground-level clusterfuck.


"I like to be where the action is!" says Amy Linthicum


A hyperactive Dave Cawley (is there any other kind?) bounced up and down in the heart of the crowd gatherered around the stage front, excitedly singing along with Billy Idol as the P.A. played selections from the first Generation X album ("They were great, kinda poppy like Buzzcocks, which is why the press slagged them," Dave explained), one hand holding his sweetie Gina, the other clutching a filled-to-the-brim Rum-and-Coke that swirled precariously 'round the rim but did not spill or splatter. I only knew Gen X's "Girls," "Dancing with Myself," and "Ready, Steady, Go," but Dave knew every word of every song. (Like every band Dave and I love, we agreed that Gen X were "criminally neglected," much like Dave's old bands The Lumpies, The Nu-Beats, and The Young Prufrock Alliance - alas, the YPA's sure-fire educational hit "Study Group" has still yet to be released, much less recorded, or even much less remembered!)

On her way to the front, Amy almost didn't recognize a long-haired, bespectacled Tim Finnerty who was at Baltimore Soundstage to represent Essex and the Greater Middle River Community. Tim explained he was merely growing his hair out to fit in at an upcoming Saxon "Hair Metal" show.

Though he loves comic books and Heavy Metal music, Tim Finnerty is no East Bawmer waterbilly - quite the opposite, in fact. He made quite a few astute observations about the Baltimore Soundstage audience, including my favorite: "What is it with all the studded vests here? I've never seen so many in one setting."


Studs have a vested interest in rock & roll

Sleeveless shirts and vests were certainly de rigueur for the The Stereotypical "I'm a Rock & Roller" Club Look (available for purchase at any Hot Topic store in any mall in America), all the better to show off the tattoo sleeves many attendees had. These, in turn, were complimented by studded belts and bracelet accessories, just in case anyone would mistake the wearer for a corporate salaryman.

When I told him that I was gonna shop for studded vests at Hot Topic, Tim insisted that a true rocker always takes a "virgin denim vest" and adds their own studs to it. It's what separates the poseurs from the real deal. 'Nuff said, I'm down with East Bawmer cred for studded threads!

Look What the Kats Dragged In
Later, I spotted Adolf Kowalski and Patti Jensen Vucci in the back of the stage floor, where they were joined by Adolf's Katatonix bandmates, Charlie Gatewood and Ed Linton, showing solidarity in arms (hey, he did buy their tickets, after all!). Adolf had seen Buzzcocks back in their 1979 heyday (yes, I'm still very jealous) when the lineup included drummer par excellence John Maher and bassist Steve "Paddy" Garvey.

Adolf, Charlie and Ed of Thee Katatonix

"Peek-a-boo, I see you," says Adolf K.


Setlists Going Steady:
At last, Buzzcocks - founding fathers Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle, and new boys Danny Farrant and Chris Remington - took the stage to a packed house and opened with "Boredom," the best-known song (along with "Orgasm Addict") from their 1977 self-produced EP Spiral Scratch. This signature tune dates from the days when Steve Diggle was the bass player and Howard Devoto sang, and still delights with its minimalist guitar solo (two notes repeated 66 times).








Of course, though we (Amy, me, Dave, Gina)  had staked out a primo spot just two rows back of the stage, we were soon invaded by beer-sloshing slam-dancers the minute the song started. I do not like them. (And yes, my jacket sleeve got soaked and I almost dropped my cell phone mid-photosnap!). I bid Amy adieu, exchanging places with Charlie Gatewood as I moved to the back of the pack to wait until things settled down, all  the better to see and hear the band without being crushed.

Charlie Gatewood protects Amy in the mosh pit

Tonight's set pretty much duplicated the one they played last September at DC's Black Cat, with the notable absence of Diggle's "When Love Turns Around" (from 1993's superlative Trade Test Transmissions) and Shelley's "Oh Shit!," and the addition of the great jam "Why Can't I Touch It?" (the group-written flip of the 1979 single "Everybody's Happy Nowadays). This existential lament should be the official theme song for every strip club in the world.

"Why Can't I Touch It?" B-side (United Artists, 2 March 1979)

In fact, other than Diggle's "Sick City Sometimes" (from 2003's Buzzcocks), all songs were pretty much taken from their hits collection Singles Going Steady (1979) and The Way, with the remainder filled out by selections from 1976's Spiral Scratch EP ("Boredom," "Orgasm Addict"), 1978's Another Music in a Different Kitchen ("Fast Cars," "Autonomy") and  Love Bites ("Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't 've)), 1980's A Different Kind of Tension ("You Say You Don't Love Me," "I Believe"), and Diggle's late 1980 single "Why She's a Girl From the Chainstore" (which Dave Cawley still insists is "the dumbest music video of all time!").

Buzzcocks setlist: Baltimore Soundstage, 4/18/2015

I enjoyed the selections, though I am still mystified why Diggle's "Third Dimension" continues to be selected, other than as a psychedelic guitar workout. It's an average tune that goes on way too long; I'd much rather have Shelley's new (and timely) social media song, "Virtually Real" included, or even Diggle's "Love Turns Around" return to the setlist. Likewise, Diggle's "Chasing Rainbows/Modern Times" may be a surefire rocker, but as Katatonix guitarist Charlie Gatewood so astutely pointed out (mere seconds after hearing it played for the first time), it's basically just a variation on The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop," just with the trademark Buzzcocks buzzsaw guitars this time around.


Diggle's waiting, anticipating...

...in the Third Dimension

That said, Diggle's "Sick City Sometimes" and the new "People Are Strange Machines" were performance highlights, along with Shelley's "I Don't Mind," "You Say You Don't Love Me," and a spirited "Love You More."

Buzzcocks closed their set with Shelley's masterpiece "I Believe," the last great single from the Buzzcocks Golden Era" (1978-1980) - and my fave track from 1980's third (and last) original 'cocks album, A Different Kind of Tension.

"I Believe" (I.R.S. Records, 1980)

I "Keep on Believing" that "I Believe" is timeless and never dated, a great tune matched by thought-provoking lyrics ("It's the aim of existence to offer resistance to the flow of time"), including its coda, "I believe in, it's time to be leavin'." It was a great note on which to end A Different Kind of Tension, as well as tonight's regular set.

Pete Shelley states his case in "I Believe"

A fourth Buzzcocks album was in the works before Pete Shelley called it a day in 1981. Diggle, Maher, and Garvey carried on briefly minus Pete and recorded  Steve's "In the Back"; though it remained unreleased until 1988, when it turned up on the Diggle/Flag of Convenience (FOC) War on the Wireless Set collection, the new 'cocks (rightly) deemed it worthy of reconsideration and re-recording on The Way. Coming on the heels of the set-ending "I Believe," it was a fitting choice of first encore song.

Listen to F.O.C. play "In the Back."



This was followed by Diggle's "Harmony in My Head," an energetic workout in which Steve-o pulled out all the stops and got quite emotional.

Diggle hits a windmill power chord

Diggle sends a shout out from the harmony in his head

Then it was on  to three Shelley-penned encores: starting with "What Do I Get?";  followed by that hit-of-hits "Ever Fallen in Love"...




...before bringing the show full circle, back to its Spiral Scratch origins with the happiest of Happy Endings, "Orgasm Addict."

"Was it good for you too?!" Diggle asks, post-"Orgasm Addict"
 
Basking in the Afterglow

"The essence of being, these feelings I'm feeling, I just want them to last"

Afterwards, basking in the afterglow of another 'cocks show, friends caught up and compared notes on the evening's festivities. Amy, Gina, and MaryAnne Tom made a beeline to the vendor tables to snatch up their Buzzcocks posters, where Alex Fine exclaimed, "Steve Diggle is my guitar hero!"

Patti Vucci, Adolf K., MaryAnne Tom and Amy Linthicum

TSU alums Dave, Greg and MaryAnne outside Baltimore Soundstage

Dave, Greg, Joe and MaryAnne cavort outside

Greg Breazeale, Joe Maravi and MaryAnne Tom clinch outside

Some of us speculated on whether any future Buzzcocks shows would incorporate Steve Diggle or Pete Shelley solo material outside the 'cocks canon. I know Amy and I wouldn't mind hearing "Wallpaper World" or some other tunes from Diggle's Revolution of Sound band (whose ranks include Buzzcocks bassist - and long-time Diggle collaborator - Chris Remington); and I'm sure Dave Cawley wouldn't mind hearing Shelley's early solo hits "Homosapien" and "Telephone Operator." Oh, and Amy, Dave and I agreed that Buzzcocks should consider playing the entire A Different Kind of Tension album on their next tour, though Amy added that she thought of it first (ha!). Admittedly, singing the complex lyrics to the title song would be challenging, but it would rekindle memories of their last visit to Baltimore during 2010's "Another Bites Tour," in which they played their first two albums (Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites, both from 1978) in their entirety. We can only hope.




It was a fun and entertaining night, and fortuitous timing, as well - I can only imagine what havoc might have ensued had Buzzcocks played here the following Saturday, April 25, when Freddie Gray protesters brought downtown Baltimore to a standstill.

48 hours later, Buzzcocks returned to New York on Monday, April 20, to perform two songs on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Both were Pete Shelley songs (hope Diggle wasn't miffed!): "Keep On Believing" from their latest CD, The Way (Pledge Music, 2014), and the timeless classic "Ever Fallen in Love" from Love Bites (United Artists, 1978).

Watch Buzzcocks play "Keep On Believing" on Late Night with Seth Meyer.


Watch Buzzcocks play "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)" on Late Night with Seth Meyer.


And with that, Buzzcocks bid the States farewell, crossing the pond to continue touring the UK the whole merry month of May. Alas, their next American visit isn't until July 2015, and then only a lone gig in Portland.

***

Related Links:
Buzzcocks @ Black Cat, 9-4-2014 (Accelerated Decrepitude)
Diggle Solo Career: "Digging Da Diggle" (Accelerated Decrepitude)

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