Review: Killing Joke @ O2 Ritz, Manchester

I first heard Killing Joke’s Pandemonium when I was 15, clad in red-skinny jeans and check board vans. From there I got into Black Flag, The Ramones, Metallica and the list goes on.

I think for many people, they are very much a gateway band into the world of Punk.

Certainly, bands like Metallica name check them as influences.

And yet, this was the first time I’d ever really had a chance to see the live, and there probably isn’t a better day to see Killing Joke than the day after Halloween.

The transcended nihilism of Jaz Coleman, the power-chords of guitarist Paul Walker, and vehemently anti-religious lyrics boil up to a perfect mixture of punk rebellion.

Although not officially sold out, there could have only been a splattering of tickets left, as their loyal legion poured in.

The gig was opened by Willow, an acoustic act that mixed his amazing vocal range with complex finger picking.

It was, in truth, an odd choice of support.

The nature of Killing Joke, riddled in political metaphor was very much juxtaposed by the fresh faced Hanson look-a-like.

His songs were probably on the quiet side for the audience, but the folk-punk troubadour won the crowd over by the end of his set, when everyone had decided to stop being awkward and migrated to the front of the venue.

If Willow was the sorbet to clear the pallet of any lingering Halloween hangovers away, then Jah Wobble were there to rev up the crowd.

The Northern Soul outfit, again, weren’t the most natural fit for the crowd.

They were somewhere between the movie Labyrinth featuring David Bowie and Public Service Broadcasting.

They were humorous however, and did get the crowd dancing.

The only questionable bit of their set list was when their bass player asked for the crowd to ‘join in if you know the words’.

A bold move for any support act, even more for one without a lead singer, before playing a six minute instrumental piece. They set the night up nicely, though.

Finally, the main event started.

In a blatant disregard to all safety precautions, a single candle burnt on top of some of the amps as lead singer Jaz Coleman strolled on stage in a boiler suit, black hair shoulder length hair, and thick black eye-liner.

They opened with The Wait, with Coleman moving around the stage with the erraticism of Uncle Fester, with rabbit in the headlight eyes.

You’d think Noel Fielding must have studied his character religiously to develop that of Vince Noir from the Mighty Boosh.

They hammered through the opening few songs, barely pausing to talk to the crowd or to even catch their breath.

The first glimpse of the new album came with Autonomous Zone, before Absent Friendthe Fall of Because and Eighties were all played in what seemed like the space of ten minutes.

The strongest song from the new album, I Am The Virus, really kicked the crowd into life.

Certainly, it was my highlight of the night.

Indeed, one of the shames about the set list is that it didn’t include more of their new album.

Only four songs made the final cut which is odd considering, on the day of the gig, it ranked at number 16 in the UK Charts and first in the rock charts.

Personally, I think it is their strongest work to date and it certainly is their most commercially successful.

The album is classic Killing Joke in many ways with its focus on apocalyptic lyrics.

Indeed in 1982, Coleman moved to Iceland thinking the apocalypse was coming such is his fixation on the topic, but it is reactionary to the current climate.

The band is one of the best in the business on commenting on the state of things.

Whether it was oil, foreign policy, big business, they can sum it up within the space of a three minute hell-for-leather song without being clichéd.

New Cold WarNew JerusalemWar On Freedom are picks of the album that didn’t make it in.

But with 38 years of songs to play from, you wonder if there is a sense of responsibility to play the songs the crowd want to hear.

That’s not to say that this was an evening of nostalgia, as these songs are very much applicable to the world we live in.

No-one is safe from Coleman, with everyone from Blair to Bankers feeling the blow of his cutting lyrics.

For such an interesting character as Coleman is, he didn’t say a great deal.

This could have been to work through the mammoth 20 song set-list with as much efficiency as possible, but then again he did distill a few ideas into the crowd.

“Are you happy with more migrants,” he said to the crowd in his cockney drawl.

“I am, after all, we did bomb their fucking country,” he continued, as he followed this up with Money Is Not Our God, which sent the crowd into raptures.

The set waned a bit towards the second half and it was probably due to how relentlessly they were hammering through their songs, trying to squeeze as much in as possible because of an early Sunday night curfew.

It’s important to say that Killing Joke isn’t all doom and gloom.

There is a perverse sense of happiness that few genres other than punk offer.

The overarching message is that we’re all part of a sinking ship, but at least we’re going down together.

This is highlighted when Coleman asks the crowd, “Do you share in my darkness?”

Certainly Asteroid, which has as much as a sing-along verse as any of Killing Jokes songs, proved that they all very much do.

The encore came, as Turn to Red, Wardance and the least surprising closing of the night in the form of Pandemonium lifted the newly rebranded O2 Ritz to an evening high.

Ultimately, they were everything that I thought a Killing Joke would be: sweaty, loud, challenging, and utterly immersive.

Image courtesy of Alterna2, with thanks.

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