This show presented a number of challenges, both expected and unexpected, both real and imaginary. Crisis #1 - will this show sell out? Alright so The Granada holds like a thousand people but Ticketmaster says this is all-ages so who knows. Crisis #2 - $15 ticket price. What the hell is that all about? Crisis #3 - No cameras or recorders. Me see Dave Smalley without taking a picture? Not fuckin' likely!
Results? Crisis #1 was entirely my imagination. Sometimes I get reality confused with how the world would be if I ran it. In fact the promoters weren't expecting a crowd and initially tried to book the Bottleneck but it was already reserved. Even worse, during The Lunachicks' set I thought the show could have been booked in my garage. I think the small turn out was a result of a 18+ show (despite what Ticketmaster said online), and a giant ticket price.
Crisis #2 is one of those lump it things, ya just hit the ATM and bend over and smile. I wonder where all that money is going? You'd think The Buzzcocks wouldn't need the money after whoring What Do I Get? for a TV commercial.
Crisis #3 wasn't so easy to solve. I tossed the camera in my pants, but the folks at the door wondered why I was carrying a camera bag with batteries, but no camera in it and gave me the third degree. Eventually I got in and then I approached Keith Davies (new bassist) from Down by Law to get permission to shoot. He said it wasn't a concern at all and pointed me to The Lunachicks road manager who okayed me to take "just a few". I was told to check with The Buzzcocks road manager but I couldn't find.
Although this was a package tour, the audience's loyalties seemed divided. Fans of The Lunachicks high-energy punk rock seemed to discount the other bands' fans as posers and has-beens respectively. The admonitions were mutual with The Buzzcocks' fans showing up just in time to catch their favourites from decades past and blowing off the newer bands. Not exactly scene unity, but this is 1999 and I'm not surprised by these things as much as I used to be.
Although The Lunachicks looked out from the large Granada stage to see only 30 fans up front, they treated Kansas City to a high energy show. Unlike most punk bands, The Lunachicks emphasize the "show" aspect with witty [read bawdy] banter, choreographed dance moves and jumps, and in matching PVC cheerleader uniforms. Don't be lulled into thinking the band is just eye candy, they ripped through a short set with great intensity and surprisingly nimble guitar solos that are straight out of my guitar pro dreams. The sound was great and I shouted and clapped wildly in hope of making up for the small and docile crowd.
After only minor equipment changes, Down By Law took the stage and I got my first glimpse of vocalist/guitarist/personal hero Dave Smalley -- he looked old. I suppose that is the side effect of being in the scene (DYS, Dag Nasty, All) for over 15 years. From there it was all down hill: the band was lifeless, Dave's dialog wasn't particularly engaging, the sound was simply horrible and they played no songs from their first (and my favourite) album. They did play at least one song from each of their other albums and ended with an unfortunate cover of The Proclaimers' 500 Miles (setlist here). Over time the band's sound has changed from power-pop to pop-punk and now to something entirely different which embraces those styles as well as pure pop, reggae and more. However this new amalgamation has no teeth, no depth and no soul. Their show was entirely disappointing.
At 11pm, after a few equipment changes by an army of roadies, the stage was set for The Buzzcocks. The crowd had swelled to a few hundred with the older I-was-there-when crowd hanging back with their mixed drinks and the younger, dumber crowd up front to mosh. Whatever happen to the pogo I ask you?
Although The Buzzcocks are on tour to promote their new album entitled Modern (Go Kart, 1999), I'd venture to say only 10% of the audience knew they had recorded anything since 1980, and only half of those fans owned any of those reformation recordings. As founders Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle (both on guitar and vocals) struggle to make The Buzzcocks viable in the music industry today, they are constantly "burdened" with a history so great, that they are granted notice only as nostalgia.
This fact was illustrated throughout the evening and punctuated as the band's road manager placed printed setlists on the stage causing a fan with a strained neck and strained eyes to exclaim "shit it's all new stuff!". Of the nineteen songs performed that night, there were only five from the new album and one from their previous, the rest were from their 70s heyday.
The band played favourites like Love You More, Noise Annoys, What Do I Get, and closed with I Believe before returning for an encore of Harmony in My Head, Ever Fallen in Love with Someone you Shouldn't've?, Orgasm Addict and one other I didn't recognize. I felt that pretty generous although I can't say I wouldn't have traded Speed of Life, Soul on a Rock, and Turn of the Screw (all from Modern) for Why Can't I Touch it? or Oh Shit. If you're the curious type check out the complete setlist here.
Although the band may struggle to gain respect as a player in today's music industry, they do not struggle musically. New songs Doesn't Mean Anything and Choices are both excellent pop with all the bounce and energy of bands half their age and with the timeless musical sensibilities that few bands today can approach. The band can still play with the best of them as well. The old songs remain fast and with the same teeth they had twenty years ago, and live they have gained guitar solos from Diggle that sizzle. There were no onstage acrobatics from the band and only a few jumps but the rolled eyes of Shelley can do more to energize a crowd than all of Fred Durst's hand waving and crotch grabbing combined.
The sweaty and tiring band left the stage an hour and a half and to unanswered calls for a second encore. And I walked back to the car, remembering seeing The Buzzcocks once before in the winter of 1991. I watched them through the cracked stage doors at Jake's Nightclub at Indiana University. It was in the teens that night as my college roommate and I (both too young to get inside) jumped around to keep warm and shouted in requests that only we heard. Afterwards, the stage door opened and someone from the P-Kids (a drummer no longer with the band) let us in to go up and meet The Buzzcocks. My glasses fogged up as I went backstage and I couldn't see who I held out my cheap micro-recorder to in hopes someone would record a one-liner for my radio show. What I got was: "This iz Pete from the Boozecocks an you're listenin' to WQAX in bloomin' town, Indiana. An I tink the drinkin' laws in is cunt'ry suck!". I wonder if anyone was sitting outside The Granada tonight.