By Roy Trakin –
Buzzcocks at the Fonda Theatre, Hollywood
An argument could certainly be made that this Manchester outfit was the best punk group to emerge from the U.K. in the late ‘70s, tighter than The Clash, more tuneful than The Jam and wittier in a bawdy, Rabelaisian way than even Malcolm McLaren’s Oscar Wilde-by-way-of Charles Dickens Sex Pistols.
Some 38 years later, founding member Pete Shelley and longtime colleague Steve Diggle are still at it, now joined, as they have been since 2008, by bassist Chris Remmington and drummer Danny Farrant, who mostly keep the backbeat going and stay out of the way of the yin-yang pair – Pete dressed in black, Diggle in white, trading off verses and guitar riffs with an enthusiasm undiminished by time.
Singles Going Steady, the classic 1979 compilation, remains seminal, and its songs form the backbone of the set – “Orgasm Addict” and “Noise Annoys,” with their cheeky punning titles, as well as the irresistible “What Do I Get?,” “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have),” Diggle’s show-stopping “Harmony in My Head,” the martial Clash beat of “Whatever Happened To?,” “Love You More,” the Who-like “Autonomy” (a ringer for “Can’t Explain”) and “I Don’t Mind,” which sound as relevant today as they did almost four decades ago, judging by the moshing throngs in the pit, most of whom weren’t born when those singles came out.
These days, the gray-bearded, balding Shelley looks more like Jerry Garcia then a young Mod, though Diggle still appears pretty spry, cranking out the Pete Townshend windmill for a soaring “Promises,” yet another Steady selection.
Promoting their new album, The Way, their first studio release since 2006’s Flat-Pack Philosophy, funded in part through crowd-sourced PledgeMusic and coming out in the States next month, the new material fits in seamlessly with the old. “Keep on Believing” is a rousing anthem of survival (not the Journey song), while Diggle’s “People Are Strange Machines” offers a typically wry Mancunian view on humanity that echoes the band’s own mechanistic approach, though shot through with enough pop hooks and Shelley’s keening vulnerability to make Buzzcocks the true missing link between the ‘60s British Invasion and ‘70s punk revolution.
The title track has a gnarled, angular blues feel, with Shelley latching on to the winding guitar riff like a dog with a bone, while “Third Dimension” is a galloping rockabilly blues sung by Diggle, who adds a crunchy psychedelic guitar solo for good measure. “Chasing Rainbows/Modern Times” references both Judy Garland and Charlie Chaplin, and while the latter’s actually English, the band’s American nod is apparent from the stars and stripes draped over one of the amps as well as this unabashed tribute to the Ramones, with its “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” sound-alike chorus.
By the time the band leans into “What Do I Get,” followed by a rousing encore of “Harmony in My Head” (Diggle leading the throng in a nostalgic pogo), “Ever Fallen in Love” and the climactic “Orgasm Addict,” the crowd is singing along to every word as if it were London 1977, proof positive of vintage punk’s continued persistence.