Friday, May 3, 2013
Better than: Seeing New Order, the Cure, or any other British post-punk contemporaries of Killing Joke still in operation.
In terms of sheer breadth of influence, few bands from the post-punk era can approach the reach of Killing Joke. The brooding, apocalyptic death disco conjured by the quartet since they first came together in London In the late '70s has resonated with a host of punk, metal, dance, and industrial outfits. Killing Joke has been covered by Metallica, plagiarized by Nirvana (Kurt Cobain famously nicked the guitar riff from "Eighties" for "Come As You Are"), and hailed as an inspiration by artists like Trent Reznor, LCD Soundsystem, and Jane's Addiction.
Despite having reunited the original line-up after the 2008 passing of longtime bassist Paul Raven and issuing two solid albums -- 2010's searing Absolute Dissent and last year's equally potent MMXII -- Killing Joke remains something of a cult band in the States. A healthy but far from packed crowd gathered at the Fillmore on Friday night to hear a career-spanning set from singer Jaz Coleman and company.
Bassist Martin "Youth" Glover, guitarist Kevin "Geordie" Walker, and drummer "Big" Paul Ferguson took the stage with auxiliary keyboard player Reza Udin, firing up the menacing pulse of 1981 debut album opener "Requiem" before Coleman joined them. Eschewing his usual warpaint and boiler suit for a simple black sleeveless T-shirt, black jeans, and heavy eyeliner, the glowering Coleman had the rabid audience members up front howling along from the moment he started singing: "Man watching city fall/ The clock keeps on ticking/ He doesn't know why/ He's just cattle for slaughter."
Though this 35th anniversary tour ostensibly promotes the band's forthcoming retrospective release, The Singles Collection 1979-2012, Killing Joke leaned heavily on earlier material to start things off. Ferguson's hissing high-hat fueled the dub-tinged rarity "Turn to Red" before giving way to the tribal beat of "Wardance." With a nonchalant look that belied the corrosive shards of guitar he was churning out, Geordie left the showmanship to Coleman and the far more animated Youth, who sported a wide grin as he laid down the song's intricate, harmonic-filled bass line.
Fans of the group's more melodic mid-to-late 1980s period may have been disappointed by the relatively short shrift that material received (a nice version of the gothic-pop hit "Love Like Blood" doubtless made their evening), but the crowd was clearly more interested in moshing to the more aggressive end of the Killing Joke spectrum. Coleman whipped the pit into a frothing frenzy several times, stalking the stage with crazed eyes and feral intensity as he bellowed through charging versions of "Eighties," "Money is Not Our God," and "The Wait."
If there was any drawback to the broader scope of the songs played, it was the lack of space for more recent tunes. Only "European Super State" and "Corporate Elect" from Absolute Dissent and MMXII, respectively, got an airing, leaving a host of newer gems that went unheard. And that's not a bad problem for a band to have halfway through their fourth decade of existence.
Random note: Dear Fillmore: You don't have to crank the heat in the men's room to blast-furnace levels to keep people from hanging out there, especially on an unseasonably warm May night. The smell and general ambiance is deterrent enough, thanks.
Critical bias: As a teen, I used to ride around Walnut Creek in my friend Mason Campbell's beater station wagon with the Killing Joke jester emblazoned on the hood, smoking weed and listening to the band's first two albums incessantly. Seeing the original line-up play live was the fulfillment of a 30-year dream.