Sunday, May 16, 2010

It's the Buzz, Hons!

Buzzcocks @ The Ottobar
Baltimore, MD
May 12, 2010

The 2010 "Another Bites" Tour

Unlike so many rock bands from the '70s, Buzzcocks remain more than just nostalgic entertainment for aging rockers - they still maintain a sizable fan base of young devotees as well. Pete Shelley's famous line about "Nostalgia for an age yet to come" may well refer to their ability to add new fans - across a diverse age range - to the Buzzcocks template. Case in point: the day after seeing the Ottobar show, Amy and I were having lunch at Atwater's when our Twentysomething waiter spotted my Buzzcocks "Another Bites" t-shirt and said, "Hey, I was there last night; great show!"

The Buzzcocks sound may be rooted in late '70s pop-punk, but as the five albums - Trade Test Tranmissions (1993), All Set (1996), Modern (1999), Buzzcocks (2003), and Flat-Pack Philosophy (2006) - that Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle have recorded under the Buzzcocks moniker since their 1981 breakup prove, it's far from a static template (like, say, The Ramones - who picked one sound and never deviated from it, great sound though it be). While the trademark fast tempos and buzzsaw guitars are still there at the core of the sound, Shelley and Diggle have added a lot of new colors to the palette over the years, even toying with snatches of electronica at times. And a recent listen to 2006's Flat-Pack Philosophy has resulted in me not being able to get "Credit" out of my mind - not just because it reminds me of the financial hole I've gotten myself in, but because it's clever lyrics and melody could easily have fit in on Singles Going Steady from the Glory Days.

Steve & Pete: Something goes right again

This year's edition of the Buzzcocks added a new rhythm section in the form of bass player Chris Remington (who's played in Diggle's solo band Flag of Convenience - and is a veritable Steve Winwood lookalike!) and drummer Danny Farrant. As with the vintage-era 'cocks bassist and drummer - Steve Garvey and John Maher - they also happen to be the best-looking and have the best hair. (Ah, youth, there is thy sting!) The newbies replaced bassist Tony Barber and drummer Phil Barker, who had been 'cocks from 1992-2006.

Photogenic new 'cocks Chris (L) & Danny (R) ugly up
to try & make Dave Cawley (center) look good. They failed.

The 22-date North American "Another Bites" Tour is so named because the Buzzcocks were playing their first two albums - Another Music in a Different Kitchen (1978) and Love Bites (1978) - in their entirety, following an increasingly popular touring trend that has seen bands as diverse as Devo and Megadeath play live sets of entire classic albums, more in less in their original track order.

Thus the Ottobar show (which represented the second leg of the North American Tour that kicked off the night before at Washington, D.C.'s Black Cat club) - gave us Another Music 's "Fast Cars" (Shelley-Devoto-Diggle), "No Reply," "You Tear Me Up" (Shelley-Devoto), "Get On Our Own," "Love Battery" (Shelley-Devoto), "Sixteen," "I Don't Mind," "Fiction Romance," "Autonomy" (Diggle), "I Need" (Diggle-Shelley), and "Moving Away from the Pulsebeat," which concluded with Danny Farrant's ferocious drum solo as the 'cocks left the stage for a brief intermission...

...followed by Love Bites' "Boredom" intro, "Real World," "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)," "Operator's Manual," "Nostalgia," "Just Lust" (one of two songs Shelley co-wrote with "Alan Dial," nom de plume of Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon), "Sixteen Again," "Walking Distance" (a Steve Garvey tune!), Diggle's acoustic "Love Is Lies," "Nothing Left," "E.S.P.," and the outro instro "Late for the Train."

The five encores were: "Harmony in My Head" (Diggle), "Promises" (Diggle-Shelley), "What Do I Get?" (Shelley), "Orgasm Addict" (Shelley-Devoto), and "Love You More" (Shelley)...

Spiral Chit-Chat

Before the show started 'cocks connoisseurs traded barbs and anecdotes and fact, Dave Cawley - wearing his rare "Buzzcocks 1989 Reunion Tour" t-shirt underneath his mod Ben Sherman jacket - loaned me his copy of Tony McGartland's out-of-print Buzzcocks: The Complete History (from which I learned such essential trivia as: the awkward syntax of "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)" is actually a line from the musical Guys and Dolls!)...

Tony McG's Buzzcocks bio the way, while Tony McG's book is fact-filled (I never knew that Smiths drummer Mike Joyce was briefly a Buzzcock in the '90s or that Steve Garvey 's bandmates called him "Paddy" to avoid confusion with Alpha "Steve" Diggle), Amy says it's not nearly as fun as Steve Diggle's bio Harmony in My Head, which she bought used on Amazon UK and described as "Nothing but non-stop shagging and rocking!"...

Harmony in His Bed: Diggle gets his 'cocks off

...Amy brought her Diggle book along in hopes of getting it signed - which it was, afterwards, by the ever affable and accomodating Mr. Diggle.

Steve dedicates HARMONY IN MY HEAD to Amy

(Amy also stole a "Different Kind of Ecstasy" kiss from Steve-o, which left her beaming! Schveetich!)

Meanwhile, in the lead-up to the show...Dave Cawley, whose affection for "Godzilla Vs. [Insert Monster Name Here]" scenarios often leads him into pointless This Vs. That (aka "Highlander: There Can Be Only One" or "Beatles Vs. Stones") comparisons, was holding forth to all who would listen his opinion that Another Music in a Different Kitchen was far superior to Love Bites (to quote Dave: "It's my opinion - but it's correct")...when Amy and I responded that we thought Love Bites was more memorable, perhaps because the band had moved beyond Howard Devoto's influence and come into their own (or as Tony McGartland backs me up: "With Howard Devoto no longer around, Shelley's penchant for unabashed pop songs about the cauldron of relationships flourished"), Dave's voice rose with his signature "It's Debatin' Time" squawk. (Oh Dave, must Ape kill Ape? Can't we just get along and love both albums? Some battles just aren't worth fighting, or as Eeyore would say, "Oh, bother")

A pensive Dave Cawley pauses, momentarily,
to consider whether his opinion could be
wrong. "Nah, no way!" he concludes.

Milling about the crowd we saw a number of old friends, including Janet and (Microsoft-certified rocker) Mike Ramsey, former Beaver's Cleavers guitarist and (TSU grad) Greg Breazeale, former Puts-Outs bassist Tim Conder, and my former Thee Katatonix bandmates Adolf Kowalski (whose daughter Allison wanted a t-shirt, but Adolf the overprotective Dad was worried about her wearing anything with the word 'cock on it at school!) and Mr. Urbanity (Charlie Gatewood, who had wisely inserted cotton into his concert-tested lobes).

Tim Conder hails Satan while Adolf Kowalski signals both a
thumbs up AND a hands down (Palmolive - you're soaking
in it?) in Patti Jensen Vucci's drink

Jealous that Adolf K. got a Tim Conder hug,
Dave Cawley asks the former Put-Out to put out

Dave also ran into the dude who runs Towson's Celebrated Summer Records...I forget his name but he's a nice guy and shares Dave's hyper-accelerated passion for punk, as well as all things Japanarama - hence his Kamen Rider poses with Dave below:

Kamen Riders on the Storm

On a scale of 1 to 10, Dave grudgingly gives his
friend's Kamen Rider stance a "1"

Oh, and Donnie Darko's friend "Frank" was also spotted in the crowd:

He's Frank

And now...On with the Show!


During the show, I soon realized that the room was so packed that any body movement was limited to verticality - you could jump up and down (if your feet could separate from the congealed wad of spilled beer on the floor), but overhead the ozone was cluttered with upright flashing iPhones, Droids, and (in my case) Flip cameras snapping and recording away. The show easily exceeded the Ottobar's 700-peeps capacity (it was so packed you needed lubricant just to slither your way through the teeming minions to the bathroom!), though one attendee later claimed there were about 100 people there. (As Keith Olbermann says of half-term governor Sarah Palin, "That an idiot!" To which I would add: or bad at math...or very drunk...or both!)

I also realized that there was a stinky "vapor lock" surrounding us where we stood...someone nearby either let loose a methane emission or pooped their pants (whether from excitement or too many beers I dunno!) because I recognized that "excited little kids" aroma that's familiar to anyone who's ever been in the library's Children's Department during a Harry Potter book release. I looked at Dave Cawley and Amy, but my nostril scan picked up nothing but excess adrenaline secretions.

He who smelt it did not dealt it!

I had never seen the Buzzcocks live before, having missed the chance to catch their 1979 A Different Kind of Tension tour stop in Philly and then missing them in Baltimore two years ago (again at the Ottobar) when Dave Cawley tried to get me to go but I was recalcitrant for some reason. But I noticed, with some surprise, that Pete Shelley is Mr. Understatement onstage, making subtle faces, knowing winks, and the occasional eye roll, while it was Steve Diggle who was Mr. Excitement, delighting the crowd with his Townshend-esque windmill guitar riffs and audience repartee.

Diggle clearly is having a good time and looks like he wouldn't trade places with anyone when he's up there playing rock and roll; Shelley, meanwhile, is content to quietly navigate the proceedings, keeping the ship on course.

Strange Thing: Pete Shelley is starting to look a lot
like my brother-in-law Bill Aspinwall!

And it was a thoroughly pleasant sea cruise, two hours filled with irresistable hooks, ringing guitars, beautiful minor chords, and choruses you can't resist singing along to.

But all good things must end at last...until the next time...

Danny Farrant says goodnight...

...while Chris and Steve thank the fans for coming

One thing I noticed though...Buzzcocks need to expand their wardrobe. I mean, looking at their touring pics over the years, Pete always seems to wear the same Mondrian color block shirt and Steve the same mod white polka dot shirt (Dave Cawley called it "Weller-esque"). Guys, find yourselves a sartorial sponsor - even Wal-Mart would be an improvement!

Up's Where We Belong

After the show, we went upstairs to see if any 'cocks were hanging out (there's a joke in there, but I won't touch it!)...and spotted Steve Diggle drinking Guinness, chatting up birds and blokes alike, and graciously signing records and posing with fans. He was later joined Chris and Danny. No sign of Pete Shelley; he must have gone straight to the tour bus to chill out.

Photo op with Steve Diggle makes girl get all Emo

"Hmpft! What's that girl got that I don't?" fumes Amy,
spotting Diggle with another bird, as Greg Breazeale looks on

Diggle signs a fan's copy of SINGLES GOING STEADY

Amy and I briefly chatted with Steve Diggle and then shamelessly posed for photo ops...

Tom, Steve & Amy: a match made in R&R Heaven

Dave insists that this is an even better shot

Tom looks on as Dave enters The Diggle Zone

Tom & Amy hover while Steve and Dave have a heated
debate over whose jacket is more mod: Diggle's leather
or Dave's Ben Sherman windbreaker

Tom, MaryAnn Tom & Chris Remington look on as
Steve and Dave continue the Great Jacket Debate

"Dude, your Ben Sherman jacket totally rocks!" an
anonymous drunk tells an obviously impressed Dave Cawley

"C'mon, doncha love my jacket?" Dave pleas in
Danny Farrant's ear after being rebuffed by Diggle

Greg Breazeale looks on as any annoyed Chris Remington (L)
starts stomping on a prostrate Dave Cawley (not seen, but heard)

But amidst all the fawning over Buzzcocks music, I had to ask Diggs the most important question you can ask a native Mancunian: City or United? Oasis be damned, Steve didn't miss a beat to respond "Oh, Man U. all the way! See, I grew up following a bloke called George Best..." Ah, Bestie...long before David Beckham strode the pitch at Old Trafford the Red Devils' "Ace Face" was this legendary "play hard/party harder" playboy-playmaker who was dubbed "the fifth Beatle" for his long hair, good looks, and extravagant celebrity lifestyle. No wonder they still sell those shirts that say "Pele good, Maradona better, George Best." (Of course, I was too afraid to reveal that I support Chelsea; them's fighting words to a Mancunian!) (Especially in a year in which the Blues edged the Red Devils for the title!)

Time's Up

As the clock neared 2, 'twas time to down the hatches and bid adieu...People emptied out of the Ottobar, guys making one last attempt at taking home a stranger, including Dave Cawley, who quickly snared a homeless Rent Boy (as shown below):

Dave makes the grade with some Rough Trade

And, as Steve Diggle and the Buzzcock boys boarded their tour bus, Amy realized that her rock and roll fantasy was nearing its end and she clutched me, her Romantic Backup Plan. (Plus I drove!)

AMY: "I had wonderful time!"
TOM: "Yes, me too. Peace out!"

And with that we had Nothing Left at all.

Except a desire for food. Which at that hour meant the Paper Moon diner...except that it was closed! (Blaspheme!) So the backup food plan was a no-brainer: Go Korean. Korean eateries always stay open until 4 in the morning, and that's about the time we hit Nam Kang on 22nd and Maryland Avenue with a bunch of friends and new acquaintances that included Dave cawley, Greg Brazeale, MaryAnne Tom, Joe Tiger (dunno his last name, but he went to TSU), and Jim Linthicum - the latter sharing the same last name as Amy (no relation). All of us except (St. Mary's College grad) Amy went to Towson State University back in the day.

"Let's eat!" say the Towson alumini gathered at Nam Kang.
(Note Amy's coveted Steve Diggle book on the table nearby,
always near her like Pig Pen's security blanket!)

And all of us were secular Buzzcocks fans, except for Jim Linthicum, who is a priest ordained in the Church of England and lives in London. (I think he likes Chelsea because he confessed to being a Madness fan.) All of us were also Beatles fans except for Jim, a Stones fanatic, who made the mistake of sitting next to "Beatles Vs. Stones" debater Dave Cawley.

"You walk in darkness," Dave informed Jim. "Now it's my opinion - but accurate - that the Beatles were the greatest band in the history of music. C'mon," he squawked, "nothing else comes close!"

"That's cute the way your voice rise up like that," said MaryAnne Tom, who had never heard Dave hit his Charles Nelson Reilly-esque high note.

Amy and I ordered light, as we had already had dinner before the show at Nok Won - yet another Korean restuarant down the street! (Hmmmm, seafood pancake!) Dave Cawley, however, made the wise decision to soak up his dozen or so beers with chicken fried rice and half a bottle of hot sauce. (Oh the humanity!)

No doubt patrons like Dave are the reason Nam Kang pre-emptively displays this "Don't Wash Your Anus" sign in their Men's Room:

Must. Fight. Urge.

More Ottobar Sights & Sounds

OK, here are my crappy videos from the May 12 Baltimore show...

But first, to kick things's a video clip of the opener "Fast Cars" shot by someone with a good camera - as opposed to my small but Pixel-challenged Flip camera.

Watch Buzzcocks perform "Fast Cars."

Same dude (usbomb99) was in front row with the snazzy camera to capture these high-quality clips:

"Love Battery."
Watch "Nostalgia/Just Lust/Sixteen Again"
"Love Is Lies"
"What Do I Get/Orgasm Addict"

My Crappy Buzzcocks Videos

OK, time for my Gumby Vision crap...Watch Buzzcocks play:

"Love Battery"

"Autonomy" & "I Need"

"I Don't Mind" & "Fiction Romance"

"Boredom," "Real World" & "Ever Fallen in Love?" (incomplete)

"Nostalgia," "Just Lust" & "Sixteen Again"

"Nothing Left" (Part 1)

"Nothing Left" (Part 2) & "E.S.P."

"Harmony in My Head" (first encore)

My Leftover Buzzcocks Pix

Pan-Asian Persuasion: Half-Chinese MaryAnne Tom
and Half-Japanese Amy Linthicum bond over their whole-hearted
love of Buzzcocks

" 'Ello, who's this then?" says Steve Diggle, spotting MaryAnne
Tom standing next to her namesake, Tom (Warner)

MaryAnn Tom & Chris Remington say hey

MaryAnne & Chris Remington say cheese while Greg
Breazeale & Jay Leno lurk behind Steve Diggle

Tom, Tom & Chris Remington

Greg Brazeale's buddy "Joe Tiger"

Related Links: (official site)
Secret Public fansite

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Anonymous Mary Anne Tom said...

OMG. You spent a lot of time on this, Tom. I mean, the pix are great, and we should def. milk them for all they're worth, but you are so funny. And you called me a fan(atic). LOL. I'm pretty sad at not making any other shows, but I'm thinking that if they are working on another album that maybe they'll come back soon? Obviously, this tour is going very well. Boston sold out, and Chicago is sold out already. Anyway...thanks again for taking the time to post everything. I'm going to post this on my fb wall. ;)

6:40 AM  
Anonymous The Baltimore Chop said...

This is the longest show review I've ever seen.

In fact, it might be longer than every show review I've ever seen combined.

Nice work.

3:43 PM  
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2:54 AM  

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