Killing Joke / Death Valley High – Fibbers, York, 2nd November 2016

Posted: 6 November 2016 in Live
Tags: , , , , , ,

Christopher Nosnibor

For a long, long while now, Killing Joke have been a 1,500 or so capacity venue band. Hardy perennials of the post-punk scene, I first saw them in the early 90s at Rock City in Nottingham touring the mighty Pandemonium album. They’ve never really been away over the course of a career spanning four decades, but their 2003 proved to be a landmark in their renewed vitality. The onslaught hasn’t really stopped since then, and with the original lineup reinstated, the thing that’s most remarkable about Killing Joke is just how current and utterly essential they feel right now. Some of that’s down t the fact they’ve always been a hard-touring band and a going concern rathe than some nostalgia act but their recent string of albums have been as politically sharp and sonically abrasive as anything you’re likely to find. So it’s small wonder that an additional date at the front-end of the UK leg of their immense European tour at the 400-or-so capacity Fibbers, announced at only a week’s notice, should be sold out.

The evening’s support, Death Valley High, do a decent job of warming up what could have been a difficult crowd. The US foursome, drawing influence from old-school and latter day goth with a major leaning toward the sound of classic Wax Trax! grind out a set culled primarily from their album CVLT (released 4th November). The guitars could do with being a bit more up in the mix, but against a blinding backdrop they give it a hundred per cent. Front man Reyka Osburn gets down into the crowd, who are hanging back away from the stage, and actually manages to get some audience participation going, for which substantial kudos is due.

DVH

Death Valley High

Needless to say, shortly after they’re done (and on this occasion those who delayed their arrival missed out), the venue’s packed and it’s getting pretty tight down the front while the roadies prepare the stage with bottled water, a large rug, candles and incense. Yes, it’s a Killing Joke gig alright. And unlike many larger shows – including when I saw them at Leeds Beckett around a year ago, for one of the fist reviews featured on Aural Aggravation – there’s no barrier. People are resting their pint pots on the edge of the stage, and when the band take the stage, we’re standing within handshaking distance. This is a big deal.

The open a career-spanning set with a gut-busting rendition of ‘The Hum’ from their 1982 album Revelations. The eighties indie-goth hits are dispatched early, with ‘Love Like Blood’ (dedicated to Raven) being the second song on the set-list, followed immediately by a buoyant ‘Eighties’.

After that, it’s back-to-back recent cuts, with a thunderous ‘Autonomous Zone’ and ‘New Cold War’ – simultaneously textured and delivered with the force of a battering ram – representing Pylon. Things take a turn for the even heavier immediately after, with a relentless ‘Exorcism’ finding the band hitting optimum intensity. Standing close together on the small stage, Geordie nonchalantly grinds out the absolute mother of all chirning riffs while Youth, looking like a strange ex-yuppie golfer who’s discovered New Age mysticism with his sparse dreadlocks and, visor peak and flowing star-and-moon cape, reminds us that he’s an incredibly solid bassist.

Killing Joke

Killing Joke

It’s a long set, and impressively – especially given the age of the band-members – doesn’t let up on the tempo for the duration: there are no lighter-waving anthems or slow ballads to allow band or audience alike to catch their breath. There are a lot of older men with bald heads in the crowd, and they mosh relentlessly and with wild abandon as Jaz marches non-stop. He has a stare that can reach the back of any 1,500 capacity venue, so, the intensity he radiates is even more powerful in this small space. But for all the apocalyptic menace, it’s clear he’s having a ball, and there are smiles all round between the veteran players as they feed off the audience’s adulation. Coleman’s voice is showing no sign of diminishment, and the band are so tightly together, playing with the intuition only endless hours shared in rehearsal and on stage can bring.

KJ Setlist

Killing Joke – Setlist

The latest material is up there with their best, and ‘I Am the Virus’ is a particular standout, exploding with fury, while ‘Dawn of the Hive’ is punishingly dense, before the main set ends with the swift one-two of ‘The Wait’ and ‘Psyche’.

The sole track from their landmark 2003 album is the first of the encore, and ‘Death and Resurrection Show’ is nothing short of monstrous. While I would have personally liked to have heard more from Extremities (I never tire of ‘Money is Not Our God’), ‘The Beautiful Dead’ is epic and is perhaps the most sedate song of the set.

With ‘Empire Song’ cut for time (I get why venues have to wind up gigs early to accommodate club nights: it’s a matter of economics, but it will never cease to be a cause of frustration that major headliners have to abridge their shows, for which punters have paid over £20 a ticket only to be turfed out at 10:30 to make way for a clamour of 3-4-2 alcopop-scoffing cretins), they complete the encore with ‘Wardance’ and ‘Pandemonium.’ And it’s fucking belting.

In many ways, this perfectly summarises the appeal of Killing Joke. They’re relentless in their barrage of dense, angry, grey metallic noise. And they’re consistent, both on record and live. A Killing Joke is like being pummelled, mercilessly, yet it’s also immensely exhilarating, because they’re a band who mean every word, every note, and the sense of unity in the room – band and fans – is something special. Everything is fucked. We know it, they know it. They’re preaching it to the converted, but for this time, we truly are all in it together. And despite the eternal sense of impending doom, it’s a great feeling.

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