KILLING JOKE (+ Death Valley High, The Membranes)
O2 Academy, Brixton
The great gathering descends upon Brixton's legendary music venue the Academy in droves for Killing Joke. A band who have remained relevant and visceral since their inception in 1978. Despite line-up and genre shifts over the course of their history they have remained a credible force in the alternative rock scene both in the UK and abroad. Even so the band have enjoyed a true renaissance since 2008 when the original line-up got back together and produced three explosive albums in the forms of 'Absolute Dissent' (2010), 'MMXII' (2012), and 'Pylon' (2015). It is no surprise that their fanbase is as passionate and as ravenous as it has ever been these days.
Tonight's performance is opened by the somewhat recently reformed (well since 2010) act The Membranes. Fronted by prolific punk musician and journalist John Robb, the band released their first album in 26 years last year, and tonight are hear to gives us “30 minutes of songs about the universe”. And boy do they. With raucous punk energy bristling through each track and yet a flair for moments of psychedelic, dare I say prog, flourishes, the band rip through a frenetic and entrancing set. It is a brilliant performance that quickly whips up an energetic response from the crowd, but is over way too soon. Another 30 minutes of songs about the universe would have been most welcome.
Instead of more of The Membranes we instead get the dubious pleasure of Death Valley High. High on style, low on substance. The band mix pseudo-industrial rock with nu-metal posturing. Resembling a 'Holy Wood' era Marilyn Manson tribute act but sounding like Dope sans the passion and commitment, the band's set struggles to approach the energy of The Membranes. With youth on their side but the will evidently not, their performance feels like it was completely called in. Their biggest shot of adrenaline is saved for their eponymous final song, which is still disappointing, especially seeing as they were the youngest band on the bill by a good twenty-odd years. Contrived and uninspired, they should have had the opening slot and The Membranes should have been on second.
Between DVH and the headliners taking to the stage we're treated to a dub reggae set befitting the venue's location. It may have gone above the heads of a few of the patrons, but it was a nice change from a pre-recorded mixtape.
But finally it is time for the main event. The band kick things off with 'The Hum' and instantly the room is electric. Jaz Coleman stalks the stage like an apocalyptic preacher invoking the end of days. The band then quickly rip through a set that sees them shockingly dispense with their most mainstream hits 'Love Like Blood' and 'Eighties' quickly, before unleashing a brilliantly heavy set made up of recent and classic cuts. Tracks such as 'New Cold War', 'Requiem', 'Turn To Red', 'European Superstate', 'I Am The Virus', 'Dawn OF The Hive', and 'Pssyche' are met with lyrics chanted back by the frenzied crowd. The addition of two female fire dancers/eaters makes for a more interesting stage show than usual, and is nicely self-referencing if not overtly acknowledging their 1983 album.
The encore is a definite pleaser for any long-time fan with 'The Death And Resurrection Show', 'Wardance', and 'Pandemonium' rounding off a heavy and powerful show of force from the nearly 40-year veterans. If you have ever questioned the relevance or the prowess of Killing Joke, tonight once again reaffirmed their status as a band of the 21st century with their finger on the pulse.