The Buzzcocks began when their founders put up a flyer on a college board seeking fellow musicians who dug “Sister Ray” by Velvet Underground. Nearly forty years later, they stormed through New York on their latest reunion iteration. I’m a sucker for these kinds of shows.
I’ve made it a point since seeing the closest surviving approximation to the original Beach Boys during the summer of 2012 to catch as many old school legends as possible when they come to town. You simply never know…in 2009 not many people would have guessed that the Beastie Boys’ performance at Bonnaroo would be their last, especially because they kicked so much ass.
During the last two years I’ve seen Paul McCartney (A+), Brian Wilson perform Pet Sounds (A), Jeff Beck (B+), Kraftwerk (A-), John Fogerty (A), Yoko Ono (B+), Paul Simon and Sting (A). (Note the relevance of the Harvard comma- Paul Simon and Sting were together, and the only way you know that is because I didn’t put a comma to suggest the Paul Simon show was unrelated.) I saw the Pixies before Kim Deal split and what’s left of the Wailers. These moments have all added full-sensory memories to what were once just my favorite sounds coming out of machines.
The Buzzcocks are not one of my favorite bands, but punk is a lot better live than in the comforts of your living room, other than the Clash and Rancid’s Out Come the Wolves. The Clash and Buzzcocks were part of the Sex Pistols original romp through England, the first epic punk tour, when simply playing and looking like that would scandalize audiences more than any type of music could do today. Remarkable that this was just 40 years ago. The cache of seeing such a band living is the osmosis of crazy energy from those days, those nutty lives.
In general, the Buzzcocks rocked. The crowd danced til the floor shook and the band waited no more than a few seconds between tracks, keeping the energy high. The years since have been kinder to guitarist/vocalist Steve Diggle than vocalist/guitarist Pete Shelley. Diggle was the band’s cheerleader, bubbling with infectious energy between and during songs, looking like a middle-aged Pete Townsend. Shelley was grey, heavy and bearded, laboring through the long first set. But he sounded fantastic. The bassist and drummer were newish additions.
The band ripped through 22 songs in their first set (Buzzcock songs are not long), finally ending with my favorite, “What Do I Get?” The encore was short and sweet, finishing with “Ever Fallen in Love” and “Orgasm Addict.” “Ever Fallen in Love” is so timeless you probably could have released it any year from 1965 to the present and it would have been a hit.
The opener was one of my favorite bands, Titus Andronicus, named for Shakespeare’s most violent play. In 2010 I reviewed their second album, The Monitor, which I still consider one of this century’s masterpieces. Their mor recent record, Local Business, was disappointing, and so was their set at Webster Hall. Titus usually attracts a raucous faithful, and it was bizarre to watch the crowd nod their heads curiously rather than thrashing around, even younger fans. Some pulled the classic New York concert-goer pose: folding their arms and looking stone-faced at the stage, no matter how close to the front row. New Yorkers are for the most part pretty awful rock concert fans.
Perhaps this through Titus off. They only played seven or eight songs, and only one of The Monitor. The PA system warbled Patrick Stickles’ vocals such that you could barely hear the witty lyrics of their early songs even if you were looking for them. Funny what a difference opening can make. The Pixies toured with U2, which sounds like a dream come true, except the Pixies hated playing to half-empty crowds yammering away while they waited in line for beer.
Webster Hall remains an enigma of a venue, like a pretty piece of art that takes itself too seriously.