Killing Joke: The Singles Collection 1979-2012
Before strutting onto the stage, Killing Joke set the mood with an incense stick and a candle set upon their amps. They burned, until frontman, Jaz Coleman held the flame up towards the crowd and walked off stage with it, along with the sweat and energy that the reformed British post-punk legends had revved up all night. The act fully sanctified the last hour and a half as, not just a rock concert, but a rock rite.
The listing for the show read Killing Joke: The Singles Collection 1979-2012, and that’s what we saw. Their trans-genre history and apocalyptic visions are compressed into a new box-set that warrants this world tour. Sometimes a band guards a great song catalog, but will play five or so songs off of a new release, which are much less interesting and unique than their older tunes. Due to the fact that they were not promoting a new album with new material, Killing Joke only played the most popular hard hitters for their fanbase. Over the years, the band has released twenty-one singles that have entered the US and/or UK top 100. Of these twenty-one, they played only four at Neumos, skipping over such cuts as “Love Like Blood“–by far their most “successful” song to date. I didn’t get the feeling that the crowd was too upset by this fact.
Killing Joke performed with their original 1978 line-up, excluding Paul Ferguson, who was replaced by current Pitchshifter drummer, Jason Bowld. Aside from brandishing a, literally, unceasing smile, Bowld held together a tight rhythm section with body-nodding fills in steady tempo songs, and mosh-igniting speed on tracks like “Asteroid.” Bassist, Martin “Youth“ Glover, provides such subtle nuance, at times, hinting at polyrhythm, with a tinge of funk. By the time the band reunited in 2008–over the funeral of former member Paul Raven (Ministry, Prong, Godflesh, etc)–Youth had amassed an almost farcical diversity of production credits, not to mention the albums the he played on as a primary artist. Such credits include acts that range from Primal Scream, Tom Jones, and Beth Orton to The String Cheese Incident and The Verve; including their universally hummed “Bittersweet Symphony.” There was a keyboardist standing on the dark side of the stage, who remained inaudible in the mix, except for on the last song. Who was this and why was he there? I could not figure it out and the die-hard Killing Joke fans around me couldn’t fill me in either, but agreed that his presence was a little distracting. By far the most subdued and enigmatic performer was guitarist, Geordie Walker, who provided the aggressive tone that Jaz Coleman would use as inspiration for his on-stage character.
Coleman moves intently around the stage; a half-Indian Screaming Lord Sutch, teeth bearing jaws clinched, and eyes wide, never throwing his body completely out of control. His thick brows over-line the intensity of his eyes and it is hard to focus on anyone else. In between Killing Joke tours and during periods without studio recordings, he lives between the Czech Republic and New Zealand, working as a composer for the symphony. I listened to one amazing piece, a 3-part concerto titled “Music of the Quantum,” which features slow-building epic arrangements with jangling, self-distorting bass strings, as well as an interactive website, which allows you to read about quantum mechanics while the music streams. It made me think that, if the symphony was put into double time and used electric instruments, it would be a great metal song. The guy is pretty cool.
There are a few challenges inherent to seeing a band like Killing Joke, with such a history and legend (and age, as well). The worst part about it is that I usually find myself wondering such things as, “how fucking amazing would it be to see these guys in 1980 on tour with Joy Division?!” or thinking, “when this music came out in the early eighties, it must have blown people away!” Of course, I would have loved to have seen a newly-formed Killing Joke playing with another one of my all-time favorites and, admittedly, their music would have a greater impact on me, if I had never heard Metallica, or any of the early-nineties hard rock that they had so much influence on. I never had these thoughts during the show, however, due to the vivacity of this group, and the intensity that never left Jaz Coleman’s face.
My father introduced me to a lot of music at a very young age; none of which was contemporary. I not only grew obsessed with post-punk, new wave, and funk, but also nostalgic for a time that I never knew; mostly disappointed with how other bands compared to the initial experimenters of the late-seventies and early-eighties. But, in a way, this actually adds to my enjoyment, as well. As much as I could adore a contemporary band that was just gaining popularity, I could never see them in the way that I see Jaz Coleman and Killing Joke, who are part of a much greater narrative of music history. Jaz is surely aware of his legendary status and he plays off of it. Pacing around stage in a state of crazed genius, his stage persona challenges you, “be as angry as I am… the world has driven you mad.” He yells, “this is madness!” The crowd screams back the same.
Another statement that gets thrown around in relation to bands that could be described as “past their prime” is that, “the music isn’t relevant anymore.” For some groups, it’s true–the music is not as special as it once was; the message, perhaps, something we already know. In ways, the music of Killing Joke is not as “special” as it once was, either; there have been many imitators with similar tones and simple riffs that borrowed from the group’s general feeling, definitely, numbing their singularity. Killing Jokes‘ lyrics, on the other hand, could not be more important right now. Before diving into “Corporate Elect,” Jaz plainly asked the crowd, “how do you feel about the corporate takeover?” The sentiment that is raised in the listener, throughout the song, is that the world is falling apart and, while it is enough to make someone insane, we need to fight back. Before singing, “Wardance,” Coleman mentioned Iran, Israel, and Syria, putting the song into perspective. I realized that I had never fully understood that tune before, but now, in this context, it sounded more manic and incensed than ever. This alone is a beautiful feeling and reason enough to still make an effort to see these classic bands, however “old” they may be. They are considered classics for a reason.
Turn To Red
European Super State
The Beautiful Dead
Sun Goes Down
Money is Not Our God
Death and Resurrection