While the band may be 40 years old and the musicians a tad bit older, there is no contemporary punk rock act comparable to Buzzcocks. They are the pioneers of pop punk and, along with The Damned, they are among the rare first wave British punk bands still performing. For their current tour, founding singer / guitarist Pete Shelley, guitarist / singer Steve Diggle (who’s been with the band since year one), drummer Danny Farrant, and bassist Chris Remmington (who’ve both been with the band since the latter half of the 2000’s) took the packed house at The Observatory on a highly satisfying 21-song-trip through their catalog, with an emphasis on their early material.
The Residuels, a punk rock band from Philadelphia, began playing at 8:30 and warmed up the audience with an engaging set that lasted just over a half hour. After starting with a slow, brooding preamble, the band gained a respectable momentum and provided the crowd with a solid set of captivating originals. Their reverence and appreciation for Buzzcocks was just as evident from their verbal acknowledgments as it has been on their social media. After they and the crowd exchanged a mutual sense of appreciation, the stage was reset for the Buzzcocks, who appeared at around 9:45.
The Buzzcocks set began and ended with two songs from their first EP, Spiral Scratch (“Boredom” and “Time’s Up,” respectively). In between, two songs from their latest release made it into the setlist, “People Are Strange Machines” and “It’s Not You,” but apart from those, only two other post-1970’s tunes were performed. Naturally, the older material was played with as much fire as the new material. Shelley’s voice and guitar work sounded great, Diggle’s animated performance was as captivating as his intense strumming, and the rhythm section maintained a firm hold of the house’s bollocks throughout the short but furious set, which lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes. Incidentally, Diggle had Old Glory draped over his amplifier, presumably in honor of the concert’s being on Memorial Day weekend.
Highlights of the Buzzcocks set included extended jams on “Moving Away From The Pulsebeat” and “Nothing Left.” The former highlighted Farrant’s drumming and Remmington’s bass, which collectively established a primal foundation reminiscent of a chorus of Native American tomtoms. Diggle’s antics and guitar flourishes during this segment enhanced the crowd’s already fevered enthusiasm. A couple of songs later, when the band played “Love You More,” the crowd demonstrated its allegiance by providing backup “Whoa-oh”s in a chorus that was felt throughout the building. This phenomenon was repeated with the “Oh oh”s during “Promises.”
After a brief pause, the Buzzcocks returned with a four song encore, including: “What Do I Get?” “Orgasm Addict,” “Ever Fallen In Love,” and “Harmony In My Head.” For “Harmony,” at least one elder punk hugged their significant other and cried, “I can’t believe they’re playing this!” The rapture continued, as the band rendered their final tune with another extended jam. During this period, Diggle grabbed a mic stand and held it out over the audience so that they could share in the amplification.
Buzzcocks may be celebrating a 40 year lifespan, but they have never compromised. Short of maybe one or two of their live albums, all of their releases have received a generally impressive reception from both fans and critics. Their cheeky songs and their darker, more reflective songs maintain timeless qualities, lyrically and sonically, and the age span of their fans is testament to this, as there were kids as well as old-timers at the show (plus older couples who brought their children for indoctrination). Furthermore, while it is all well and good to see a classic act perform some classic tunes to cater to an audience’s desire for nostalgia and a band’s desire for money, it is truly life affirming to know that a passionate crowd still heeds a band whose history is as important to punk rock as Buzzcocks’s often cynical and paradoxical lyrics are in an unchanging milieu of demagogues, half-wits, and hypocrites.