Saturday, September 06, 2014

Buzzcocks @ Black Cat (9-4-2014)

Black Cat, Washington, D.C.
September 4, 2014

Buzzcocks want to show you "The Way"

Nostalgia for an age yet to come - yet again!

I'm a curmudgeon, I'll readily admit it. When I saw that Buzzcocks, punk's longest-running (yet still vital) act, were bypassing Baltimore on their U.S. tour in support of new album The Way - their first stateside visit since 2010's "Another Bites" tour - I was ready to blow off seeing them. Once again, Shelley-Diggle & Co. were opening their 12-date North American tour at The Black Cat in Washington D.C.'s posh Shaw-U Street neighborhood (DC's answer to Portlandia with lots of bikes, coffee shops, and upscale boutiques) with their next closest gig set for the next night at Philadelphia's Union Transfer club. I hate driving to D.C. and Philly's an even longer drive, but after weeks of hearing my Buzzcocks fanatic girlfriend Amy Linthicum whine "We can't miss Buzzcocks, they only tour once every four years!," I finally relented (otherwise I envisioned years of relationship counseling to repair the potential rift). Had I not, I really think she might have hitch-hiked down to the nation's capital!

I immediately contacted my friend Dave Cawley, whom Amy had supplanted as World's No. 1 Buzzcocks Fan, and he and his girlfriend Gina joined us for the suprisingly easy commute down I-95 to the Black Cat to see our beloved 'cocks. Gina was a 'cocks virgin, whereas Dave had seen them countless times and Amy and I had only seen them once before, when they played Baltimore's Ottobar in May 2010.

Tom & Dave compare their tees

Gina & Amy: These girls just wanna have fun

On the drive down we played the new album (their ninth studio album, which was funded by the Direct-to-Fan online crowd-sourcing site PledgeMusic!, and the first album of new songs since 2006's Flat-Pack Philosophy), an even-Steven split of five tunes apiece by original 'cocks Pete Shelley ("Keep On Believing," "The Way," "Virtually Real," "Out of the Blue," and, co-written with Danny Farrant, "It's Not You") and Steve Diggle ("People Are Strange Machines," "In the Back," "Third Dimension," "Chasing Rainbows/Modern Times," and "Saving Yourself"), which Dave hadn't yet learned to love - unlike Amy and I.

We doubted many of the songs would make the show's setlist, but were wrong: the boys played six of the 10 tracks that evening, though surprisingly Diggle's old Flag of Convenience song "In the Back" (from his War on the Wireless Set LP) didn't make the cut. Neither did Shelley's "Virtually Real," despite the relevance of its social media subject matter (e.g., "You spend your time liking and sharing, when you could be loving and caring with me" and "profile updated, it's complicated, so tell me how do you feel: virtually real?"). The full Black Cat setlist is shown below:

Buzzcocks Black Cat set list (

Now for some reason, Buzzcocks always have horrible bands open for them over here (in 2010 it was The Dollyrats), so we took sonic shelter in the back of the Black Cat while DC's Loud Boyz lived up to their name, blasting out recycled hardcore atonalities which one audience member characterized as "so 15 years ago" (I would have added "So 15 epochs ago"). That astute observation was made by Tru Fax & The Insaniacs singer-guitarist Diana Quinn, who was sporting the coolest minimalist Buzzcock button I've ever seen. She was there with her friend Gary Hailey, who writes about music at his "2 or 3 lines (and so much more)" blog - check it out, it's pretty good!

Dave bites his knuckles listening to Loud Boyz, while the gals cool their heels

As Pete Shelley sings on the new album's title song, "The way you are's not the way you were," and it's an apt description for Buzzcocks today (as well as for all middle-aged rockers). Sure, Pete's a little chunkier and sports a gray beard now (one fan likened his countenance to folkie John Martyn) and his "helium" vocals have lost an octave or two, while original bassist Diggle has emerged from Shelley's shadow to take his place as a spotlight-hogging guitar thrasher (one given to"cod-guitar hero antics" in the words of one critic) and songwriting equal in the Lennon-McCartney arrangement the band has adopted since their post-Classic Era (1976-1980) relaunch in 1993 with the still-great Trade Test Transmissions album. But coy boy Pete still writes clever lyrics over melodic hooks, and Steve's still a hard-rocking man-about-stage who pleases crowds with his boundless energy and windmill guitar-strumming histrionics. (He tried it out once, found it alright for kicks, but now he's found out it's a habit that sticks!)

Follow-through on a Diggle windmill power chord

Diggle prepares for lift-off

More Diggle cod-rock guitar antics

In fact, some might argue that Buzzcocks today aren't the way they were but better. I wouldn't, as the original rhythm section of John Mayer (best drummer ever?) and Steve "Paddy" Garvey still sets the standard for me. But the new boys, Cockney drummer Danny Farrant (who co-wrote "It's Not You") and stylish Steve Winwood-lookalike bassist Chris Remington (who's also in Diggle's Revolution of Sound side band) are as good as one could hope for as able-bodied replacements. Farrant joined the band in 2006, replacing Phil Barker; Remington came on board in 2008, replacing bassist-producer Tony Barber. (To hear what this Buzzcocks edition sounds like playing the classic-era tunes, check out 2011's A Different Compilation.)

Diggle, Shelley & Remington kick out the jams

At 10 o'clock, Buzzcocks took the stage to a packed house (we were crammed into a tight pocket of space on the Diggle side of the stage) and proceeded to blast out what has become their traditional opening three-song salvo, Spiral Scratch's anthemic "Boredom" followed by "Fast Cars" and "I Don't Mind" from their studio album debut, 1978's Another Music in a Different Kitchen.

Then, while the audience caught their breath, some new material: Pete ventured forth with "Keep on Believing," the pop-infused toe-tapper that opens The Way with the que sera, sera words "What's the use  complaining, it's forever raining, after all that's what they made umbrellas for"...

Watch Buzzcocks play "Keep On Believing" (Union Transfer, Philly, 9-5-2014):

"Keep On Believing" was followed by Steve's "People Are Strange Machines."

Watch "People Are Strange Machines." (Robin 2, Bilston):

Along with his "Chasing Rainbows/Modern Times" (essentially a recycling of the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" with added guitar solo chops), "Strange Machines" is a definite highlight of The Way.

Steve Diggle: Always Chasing Rainbows
Diggle strums his strange machine

Then it was back to the classic tunes fans know so well from Singles Going Steady (by the way, the t-shirts featuring the Singles Going Steady cover quickly sold out - sorry Dave! - at the show's merch table), interspersed with new tunes (like Pete's "The Way" and the growing-on-me "It's Not You" - the latter which I think would fit nicely on SGS) and a Mini-Diggle Set of  "When Love Turns Around" (from 1993's Trade Test Transmissions - still Dave Cawley's favorite "new edition" Buzzcocks album), "Why She's a Girl From the Chainstore" (to which naysayer Dave Cawley murmured, "Worst music video of all time!"), and the classic "Sick City Sometimes" (from 2003's Buzzcocks - still Amy's favorite "new edition" Buzzcocks album), which Diggle explained was about 9-11 (which was news to me - ah, those Diggle lyrics, so many layers to unravel, like an onion!). ("Yeah, well onions stink!" countered Diggle contrarian Dave Cawley who, in retrospect, admitted he now understood "SCS" better.) ("Yeah, well you picked the Diggle side of the stage," counter-countered Amy.)

Diggle & Shelley: A Different Kind of Duo

Pete: "Steady now Steve!"

In concert, the two main Buzzcocks couldn't be more (polar) opposite one another. Louder Than War blogger John Robb describes the Shelley-Diggle partnership as A Different Kind of Tension:

It's this dynamic tension between [Diggle's] scissor kicking rockism and Pete Shelley's sardonic very much non rock approach that is the key to Buzzcocks- the two opposites, the warring couple- each with their own powerful, creative agenda and yet when they join together and those two guitars interplay with each other it's perfect.

there are a few grumbles about guitarist Steve Diggle's prediliction for power-chording over the intros and outros, constantly turning his amplifier up and generally just fucking around.
He also seems intent on counting in the songs, the choruses and anything else despite Pete Shelley's rather grim stares. This becomes slightly irritating as the set goes on. Diggle is clearly the worse for wear and slugging from a bottle onstage. Anyone who's seen Buzzcocks over the last few years can only be aware of Diggle's cod-guitar hero antics, but someone with his pedigree is given a fair bit of slack.
- See more at:
Pete Shelley: Sardonic Rocker

Pete making one of his coy faces
The Dynamic Duo

Or, as reviewer Kyle Schmitt (DC Rock Live - Reviews) remarked:
In contrast to his more reserved, gray-bearded bandmate, Steve Diggle unleashed his inner 18-year-old guitar hero throughout the set, playing to the crowd and bumping fists with the punters. His enthusiasm clearly inspired the audience, which he implored to “Blow the fuckin’ roof off!” and “Keep rock ’n’ roll alive!” Diggle walked the stage hoisting a microphone over the crowd during a singalong version of “Harmony in My Head”, and seemed to invigorate Shelley as the band rolled through “Noise Annoys” and “Oh Shit!” during the set’s latter half. Crediting rocks’s standard bearers at night’s end, Diggle said this music was “about Chuck Berry, the fuckin’ Ramones”, and despite his accent, I’m 90% sure he threw in the Buzzcocks at the end of that listing. After their set, it’s hard to disagree that his own band belongs in that rarified company.
Buzzcocks: In rarified company

Pete Shelley and Chris Remington

Diggle, emoting

It was a great show and I'm so glad we caught it, despite my initial reluctance (perhaps Pete Shelley was singing to me in his 1981 'cocks single "What Do You Know?"). Amy even got to shake Steve Diggle's hand as he walked off stage (though it wasn't as intimate as the kiss she got back in Baltimore in 2010).

Afterwards, Amy made a pilgrimage to Steve Diggle's amp (easy to spot with its signature "Steve Diggle" cloth draped over it!).

Amy standing guard over Diggle's Corner

She later spotted former WCVT disc jockey and lover of all things Pop-Punk, Gary Razorpop in the crowd and gave him a big hug. And I spotted another Baltimorean, Big Chris Calabrese of the band Fishnet Stalkers.

Amy with Gary Razorpop

Outside the Black Cat, Dave Cawley saw Next Gen Buzzcocks Chris Remington and Danny Farrant milling about on the sidewalk, getting a spot of fresh air.

Dave, Chris & Danny (backed by Chris Calabrese) outside Black Cat

Dave tried to convince Farrant to get the band to play Baltimore's Ottobar again (probably to no avail, but at least Danny liked the name of the club he couldn't remember from his last stop there in 2010). "I like the way you say that," Danny said, repeating "Ot-oh-bah!"

Dave continued to ingratiate himself with the affable drummer, singing the praises of P.G. Tips tea, The Who, The Small Faces, The Jam and all things Mod.

Dave Cawley, Lover of All Mod Cons, poses by a scooter outside Black Cat

"You really ought to stop that," Danny cautioned, worried about Americans loving anything hinting of British Invasion superiority. He did concur about the early Jam and Faces, but Dave winced when Danny admitted he liked the Rod Stewart vintage Faces as well. As for North American bands, Dave and Danny bonded over their shared appreciation of The Sonics. But Danny drew the line when Dave admitted he listened to Rush in high school.

Danny admitted only to listening to Rush in order to get into a bird's knickers. Dave had no such excuse ("I was young and stupid!" he cried), and tried to limit the damage by saying he stopped following Rush after 2112.

And then the errant Buzzcocks were off to pack up for the next night's gig.

Later, after we walked back to the car and drove off past the Black Cat, we spotted a little, stocky, gray-haired man in shorts loading something in a white van.

"Tom, look! That's Pete Shelley!" Dave shouted, rolling down the car window to get ready to say something to his idol. But as I slowed down and we got a close-up, it turned out just to be some middle-aged schlub.

We should have known by the shorts, Pete Shelley, punk rock star, would never be seen on the street in shorts! "The way you are's" may not be "the way you were," Pete Shelley, but you were always too cool for shorts. We ask only that in our rock star idols. As for us, we won't stop believing!

Amy to Tom "Aren't you glad you came now?"

Related Links:

Buzzcocks @ Black Cat (9-4-2014) (a Flicker set)
It's the Buzz, Hons! (Accelerated Decrepitude)


Blogger Gary said...

Tom, this is Gary Hailey. I just wanted to confirm that Howard Devoto didn't appear with the Buzzcocks when they came to the Black Cat in 2014. (I believe he rejoined the band briefly a couple of years earlier.)

I appreciate the mention of "2 or 3 lines," which I am still doing. Today, I'm writing about Magazine's "Shot by Both Sides" – co-written by Devoto and Pete Shelley before Devoto left the Buzzcocks – as part of a series on the best records I heard on Steven Lorber's "Mystic Eyes" radio show on WHFS.

Please let me know if you'd ever like to write a guest post for "2 or 3 lines" – my e-mail is

8:32 PM  
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