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Killing Joke - Filmore East, New York, 11/10/2008...12/10/2008

  by Russell Ferguson

published: 28 / 10 / 2008

Killing Joke - Filmore East, New York, 11/10/2008...12/10/2008


At the Filmore East in New York, Russell Ferguson watches Killing Joke, with all four of their original members back together for the first time since 1982, play two very different sets over two nights

I have toured Europe a few times watching New Model Army and without doubt it was one of my best experiences of seeing a band. It was different, a little bit special and somehow unique to see a band in another country. As time goes by you begin to think where next ? Where can I go ? What place would be even more unique ? Many years ago I settled on New York, but the only thing lacking was whom did I want to see ? What band would inspire me enough to travel more than three thousand miles ? I knew at some point I would venture to the United States. It was always just a matter of time but I often wondered what band would tempt me. I surprised myself when I decided to watch Killing Joke in New York (who had also been one of my first live bands back in 1980 at Northampton Cricket Ground.) While they are a band that I have enjoyed watching live I haven’t always liked their albums. Indeed there was ten years or so when I didn’t like anything they put out. Albums like 'Pandemonium', 'Democracy' and 'Extremities, Dirt And Various Repressed Emotions' all sounded to me like a wall of sound, an impenetrable barrier that I simply couldn’t take to. There is much to credit Killing Joke with their other albums. Their self-titled debut album back in 1980 was unique in many ways for a post punk band. Killing Joke liked to do tunes rather than the noise of discontentment that many other bands were doing at the time, bands such as Chelsea, GBH, and the Angelic Upstarts to name but a few. The follow up to that debut album, 1981's 'What’s This For ?' turned out to be a cracking second album, very different in many ways but still something fresh and exciting and with a sound that became the blueprint for the next couple of albums. 'Revelations'(1982) and 'Fire Dance' (1983) had a few strong singles, but it wasn’t until 1985 with 'Love Like Blood' and their 'Night Time' album that Killing Joke met with chart success. When 1986's 'Brighter Than A Thousand Suns' didn’t meet the same success, the band took a little time off before finally returning with 'Extremities, Dirt And Various Repressed Emotions'(1990) which had a harder edge compared to the previous two albums. The next couple of albums, 'Pandemonium' (1994) and 'Democracy' (1996) came slowly and there were increasingly long gaps between albums, in part due to front man and vocalist Jaz Coleman's commitments with the New Zealand Orchestra. Their fortunes were revived a little with the clumsily-titled 'Killing Joke' (2003) which lead to some confusion between that record and the debut album (Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters and Nirvana drummed on the latter album. Apparently he is something of a fan) The last studio album was 'Hosannas From The Basement Of Hell' (2006) which is almost universally disliked by the band's fans , but all for different reasons. There have been other albums released in recent years, radio sessions, remix albums, live albums and so on, but these are really for the fans and are unlikely to excite those who are just curious about Killing Joke. Killing Joke have decided to play a retrospective tour to celebrate the fact that all four original members have got back together. Indeed as Jaz has said, "How many bands do you know get back to together after 26 years? This is the first time we have been together in the same room since 1982." It would also appear that a new album is due early next year. Killing Joke have spent two nights mostly at the venues on this tour, the first night being dedicated to the debut album and 'What’s This For' and singles off some of the other albums, and the second night concentrating on the 'Pandemonium' album and singles from the same period. Killing Joke's New York gigs are being held at the Filmore East, which is something of a legendary venue. The truth is that it’s just the name that is the same, the original venue being some two blocks away and now a clothing store. The venue is not that big. I guess it can hold about 400 or 500 hundred people, and the first night has sold out which is no surprise to anyone. As the intro music starts there is eager anticipation from the crowd but I know what is coming as I saw them a week earlier at the London Forum. The keyboards strike up with 'Requiem', a slow and somewhat plodding song, but it has an underlying intensity and is very typical of the first album's sound. Geordie's guitar kicks in and lingers in the background rather than taking centre stage. As with the Young Gods you can hear each instrument if you want to hear it. It’s easy to pick out but you can equally hear the collective sound. When the coughing starts as the introduction to 'Wardance' the crowd decide to kick into life as if someone has stuck five thousand volts through the floor and it has made everyone jump two foot in the air. 'Wardance' is certainly a Killing Joke classic and it’s one of those songs that is always talked about after a gig if it has been played, usually as part of the encore. Other songs off the first album are played and all with increasing tempo. It as if Killing Joke are taunting the crowd to keep up and almost saying, "We may be nearing 50 but we’re not finished yet, are you ?" 'Complication', 'Psyche', 'Change' all follow quickly and with little interaction from the band. They just want to get on with it and are trying to push hard against the crowd. By now the crowd has warmed up a little and there is something of a mosh crowd going, but it’s nothing like the size of those at British gigs. I was told by friends that the crowds in America take ages to get going, nothing like at home gigs where from the first note there is a surge forward and the pushing, shoving and moshing starts from there. Who said the British are a reserved bunch ? 'Follow The Leader' is easily the best song from 'What’s This For', and it sits very well with the crowd and the set list too as the tempo is being raised the whole time. A lot of thought has gone into the listing of this gig and it shows. 'Eighties', 'Love Like Blood', 'Unspeakable', 'Exit', 'Butcher 'all follow. With the crowd now losing it, the band end with 'Empire Song'. The whole night has been a real treat. To hear the first album again after 28 years was something not to be missed. Killing Joke are usually a band to push forward with that they are doing now. They rarely look over their shoulder at the past but look ahead, so it has been fantastic to hear so many of the older songs played at one gig. Shortly after the second album was released the band started to decline into chaos, and bassist Youth left the band. For me this was a great night and one that I will remember for a long time to come. The second night is a real contrast to the first night. The audience is nowhere near as big as last night and Killing Joke take to the stage later than the previous evening. It’s as though they have waited longer to let the crowd get to their maximum, and when they do take to the stage they don’t have the swagger that they had the night before. From the start it’s as if they know they have more of an uphill struggle against the crowd. As a result of the smaller numbers, there is less of everything-atmosphere, energy and spontaneity. The crowd seem unable to get warmed up despite the night kicking off with 'Wardance' and 'Change'. 'Millennium', 'Pandemonium', 'Black Moon', 'Exorcism', 'Whiteout', 'Money is Not Our God', 'Psyche', 'Communion', 'Asteroid' all follow. The crowd , however, remain very stale for majority of the gig. They rarely jump into action and in return the band have nothing to feed off. The whole night is very flat in comparison to the evening before. For me the songs on 'Pandemonium' hold little interest. They are just a wall of noise. The music on it for me becomes too cluttered with all the instruments blocking out the other. They are all competing with one another and the result is just a noise. It must be said that the whole sound of all the songs they play on both nights are very similar. They come across as big, powerful and with a very rounded sound. Even the first album's songs do not sound that far removed from the later songs. It does make you wonder if it is the production of the songs that give the later material that wall of sound. Whatever the reason 'Pandemonium' sounds much better live than it does on record. To round off the night Killing Joke return to the older material towards the end of the main set playing 'The Wait' from the first album , and early single tracks 'Are You Receiving Me' ?' and 'Turn To Red'. There are times when the crowd get a jolt of energy but it never lasts. It’s just for a verse and a chorus and then they return to standing and watching. For me and a few of the other British people there it just makes it a frustrating night with a start-stop thing going on in the mosh crowd. Without doubt the first night was better than the second. The earlier material somehow lends itself more easily to live music. It has an easier beat to pick up on. It has a crisper and clearer sound when compared to the songs on 'Pandemonium'. This is reflected in ticket sales, with the first night selling out and the second night not doing so. I’m glad, however, that I watched both nights. Killing Joke are an original band and watching them is always something that I find enjoyable. Their shows have lots of energy and excitement. The encore comes a little quicker than expected and I for one am surprised that they have returned to the stage, given the reluctance of the crowd to get behind the band. Killing Joke once again try to give a shot of adrenaline into the crowd by playing 'Eighties', an energetic song that would get any crowd going and it works tonight. For the first half of the song at least. Next comes 'Madness', a drum-fuelled rhythmic song that has more shouting than singing, but it’s a great song nonethless. The irony isn’t missed on me. Exactly what would Killing Joke describe as madness? The rock and roll lifestyle, the going to a gig and having 400 people in the palm of your hand or the 28 year career which has probably surprised the band as much as anyone else ? Make up your own mind ! Killing Joke wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Killing Joke - Filmore East, New York, 11/10/2008...12/10/2008

Killing Joke - Filmore East, New York, 11/10/2008...12/10/2008

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