Killing Joke / Cowards @ Venue, Vancouver BC, December 14, 2010

Concert review by Kyle Harcott; concert photography by Ted Wilson

Killing Joke has had a banner year in 2010. They’ve released Absolute Dissent -the first record with their original lineup since 1982’s Revelations– to much acclaim and fanfare. It’s an incredible record, so of course, the announcement of a North American tour -and a Vancouver date- had me pretty excited. Judging by how quickly the show sold out, presumably five hundred other Vancouverites were excited about the news as well.

Worth noting: about ten minutes before I headed out the door to go to the show, I got word that bassist Youth had had to leave the North American tour the night before due to urgent family matters in England. Bass duties would be handled by Geordie Walker’s guitar tech “Alan” for the remainder of the tour. I vaguely wondered how this might affect the night’s performance as I headed out the door.

I got to Venue in time to catch local openers Cowards do their best Jesus Lizard impression. This isn’t a slam either; I liked what I heard as far as their music goes. I just found the whole we-really-don’t-give-a-shit-to-be-here affectation to be laid on a little thick. It’s not like I expect cartwheels onstage, but the slightest hint of enthusiasm might have been called for – considering you landed a gig opening for the band who’d helped invent the genre you’ve clearly taken the majority of your influence from. Knowing zero about Cowards prior to the show (there are a bunch of bands with the same name on MySpace), I wasn’t sure where they were from, and a couple of members had the Joy-Division-era, Factory Records (anti-)look down to a T. But then I saw the lead singer swigging from a bottle of Pilsner Old Style onstage, so that was a dead giveaway that they were definitely from nearby.

Finally, to the strains of Vangelis’ main theme from Blade Runner, Killing Joke mounted the stage and opened with the disjointed “Tomorrow’s World”. Jaz Coleman, in a black boilersuit and raccoon-eye makeup, accompanied his vocal with a robot-Pinocchio dance, punctuated with gleeful-madman mugging – while Geordie Walker, ever the ‘cool’ one, commanded the stage in his trademark vintage aviator cap. Of course, “Love Like Blood’ was next in the set, and it –expectedly- went down a horrorshow, the entire floor cheering and dancing like Vancouver had momentarily time-warped back to its late-‘80s Luvafair heyday.

Everyone roared for “Wardance” too, but Coleman’s conspiratorial microchipping/overpopulation banter between songs seemed lost on the Vancouver crowd just there to hear the old tunes – in fact, the majority present seemed interested in ONLY hearing the old songs. When the band launched into the title track (and other songs from the brilliant new record), the response was lukewarm – nowhere near as raucous as the early-‘80s tracks garnered. This isn’t a surprise in itself, but then again, Killing Joke is hardly a nostalgia novelty act. They continue to put out (their) strong(est?) material in this latter part of their career, and I guess I’d expected a bit more enthusiasm from the crowd for their bold new material.

Unfortunately, the cracks in the armor started to appear to me around this point. I don’t know if it was me, or the band, or that fact that I’d really overhyped the show to myself – but I’ll be honest, it felt like Killing Joke was having an off night. Maybe the tour had gone on too long; maybe the emergency exit of Youth the night before had played havoc with the band’s flow. Whatever it was, something definitely seemed off to me. I’ll likely be the lone opposing voice, but I found myself very quickly losing interest in a show I’d been very excited to see. The band’s performance started to come off a little bit by-the-numbers, and slightly distracted (disinterested?) Though the music was performed well, there just didn’t seem to be the fire I’d hoped for.

I suppose, at thirty-two years into its career, Killing Joke is bound to have an off night now and again. Be that as it may, though, I stuck around for two-thirds of the set and made an early exit myself, right after “Requiem”. So, no, I didn’t stick around to hear “The Wait”, but truthfully I saw enough. I’m thankful I got to see the band, but the show was not all I’d hoped it would be.

Killing Joke setlist:
Tomorrow’s World
Love Like Blood
Change
Wardance
Absolute Dissent
Bloodsport
European Super State
This World Hell
The Fall of Because
Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove
Madness
Requiem
Primitive
The Great Cull
Asteroid
The Wait
Pssyche

Encore:
Eighties
Pandemonium

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.