Bang! Festival The Observatory 9/20/14 Over time, the typical arc in the life of rock musicians reveals that they are no less whores than any other type of celebrity. Laziness and age beget compromise, and, of course, money makes people do crazy things. However, Saturday night at the Bang! Music Festival (hosted by The Observatory and sponsored by the Weekly), headlining punk rockers The Buzzcocks proved that they are just as full of piss, vinegar and spit as they were nearly 40 years ago.
Sandwiched between headlining acts Los Lobos and X, the raw punk energy of The Buzzcocks stood out. Each of the headliners was allotted a one hour set, and as soon as The Buzzcocks took to the stage, not a second was wasted. There were literally one to five second intervals between each of their upbeat, high-energy songs -- each of which was played appropriately loud. In fact, from the moment guitarist Steve Diggle slung the first of his guitars and strummed it, he ordered the sound man to increase the volume. It's hard to tell whether he was the culprit or an unheeded voice of reason in the off-balance mix of the first few songs in their set. From the first song, the band established a vigorous momentum, and by about the fourth song, the mix was appropriately adjusted, allowing for the discernment of the delicate timbre of Pete Shelley's voice.
Naturally, the sound mix was irrelevant to Diggle's physical command onstage. His constant movement and gestures were reminiscent of Pete Townshend, but his tendency to spit [in an offstage direction -- to the dignity of the surging crowd] was as punk rock as the moment he poured champagne into a paper Coca-Cola cup, which overflowed onto one of his Marshall amplifiers. When their time allotment wound down, their intensity did not, and while the earlier part of their show consisted of a cross-section of oldies and new songs, the last 15-20 minutes were tightly filled with their high-energy classic songs (including "What Do I Get?" "Promises," "Ever Fallen in Love," and "Noise Annoys").
In fact, were it not for the brief pauses between songs, in which they quickly shouted out the titles, it would have seemed like they were playing a medley. Furthermore, Diggle seemed unwilling to allow the set to end; even as bandmates Shelley, Chris Remmington (bass), and Danny Farrant (drums) were stepping away from their instruments, Diggle started playing the intro to another song [it sounded like the opening gallop to "Autonomy"]. When it was apparent to him that he stood alone, he appealed to the crowd, "Don't let rock die! Fuck the talent show!" This call to action / condemnation of pop music vehicles (e.g. American Idol) was followed by his whipping of one microphone stand to the stage floor and the kicking of another towards the audience.
The Buzzcocks hold a prestigious place in the history of rock music. Their first EP was "the third record ever released by a British punk band," and "it was the first punk record to be self-released" according to Wikipedia . Additionally, it was produced by legendary producer Martin Hannett, who allegedly recorded its four songs in three hours and performed their mix in two. Hannett went on to produce the records of Joy Division, which toured as a supporting act for The Buzzcocks. Though the rhythm section does not include the original bass player nor drummer, the current incarnation has been keeping punk alive since 2008.
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In addition to it being an honor to experience an important chapter of punk history, it is refreshing to see that these 60ish rockers can still create a raucous environment. To hear Diggle utter his "fuck it all, let's rock" remarks -- spoken in so many words with feeling -- is to be transported into a raw world that still exists under the radars of the pop machine, computer-generated music, and prosaic sentimentality. The good news is that the message can still be discerned, and in this there is hope. The Buzzcocks's new album, The Way, will be released on November 18.