The Gatherers are congregated, the candles are flickering on stage, the lights go down as the Blade Runner theme sets the scene for the next 90 or so minutes. The moratorium is over as Killing Joke launch into ‘The Wait’ unleashing, albeit slowly, the combined power of the band’s original line up (see my recent review of the latest album, Pylon, for more on the band’s recent renaissance) on an audience of the curious, the interested and the downright committed.
Killing Joke are one of those bands that possesses a hard-core following that has a passion that is (almost) religious in its nature. There is a sacred bond between the band an its fans, which leads singer, Jaz Coleman, to talk of gigs as a ‘communion’ from which he feels ‘cleansed’. This is unsurprising since the band were formed in the vessel of ritual magick and its sound has been forever forged in that crucible. For many, then, it is not just a gig; it is a a coming together of a community: a fellowship known as ‘The Gatherers’.
The primitive sounds of ‘The Wait’ ebbed away to be replaced by ‘Autonomous Zone’ the first track from the new album: the difference between the two was at the same time obvious yet hardly discernible, 37 years apart it showed that here as a band that was still as angry and urgent as ever, the brazen railing against society of youth perhaps being replaced by the provocation of experience. I am immediately locked in and feel a huge affinity with my environment, I feel the anger, but I also feel the joy…and then the poignancy of ‘Absent Friends’ in Manchester on All Hallows Day: remembering, amongst others, Tony Wilson and former KJ bassist Paul Raven.
After the remembrance, the tribal nihilism of ‘Fall of Because’, a version of ‘Eighties’ which reminded us that nothing has really changed in the years since the band was formed and a performance that really refreshed the track for me. ‘The Beautiful Dead’ was powerful and intense, a hope for what is to come that is strongly reprised on ‘Pylon’. Lead single from that album ‘I Am The Virus’ was every bit as vicious and uncompromising live, a defiant statement to stand opposed to the ‘darkness in the West’.
Then came ‘Exorcism’, for me the centrepiece of the set. The enactment of a cleansing ceremony to cast away the demons of ignorance and apathy, to see the true nature of the society in which we live. Coleman invited the crowd to think about the current migrant crisis in Europe, the pictures of children on the beaches of the Mediterranean. I found this to be incredibly moving as the relentless nature of the track, massive riffs from Geordie Walker, searing keyboards from Reza Udhin, and a powerhouse rhythm section of Youth (bass) and Paul Ferguson (drums) that was locked to emancipate; and above it all Coleman’s intense channeling of our fear and pain. It was exhausting, emotional and challenging to visualise those awful pictures from earlier in the month and to think of our collective inaction. I wiped away my tears, but could not wipe away the pain.
Following straight from that was a series of tracks which maintained the intensity for the sort of prolonged period that I have rarely witnessed in a live set: ‘Delete’, ‘Money Is Not Our God’, ‘Requiem’, Dawn of the Hive’ and ‘Panopticon’ all delivered their messages with a punch, the latter track being a massive step up from the studio version for me enabling me to look at it afresh.
Then, in Manchester, the spell was somehow broken with ‘Love Like Blood’. Perhaps its over familiarity was the key but I lost my connection and struggled to get it back through ‘Into The Unknown’, ‘Asteroid’ and ‘Pssyche’. In Leeds, however, it was replaced with ‘Wardance’ which, for me kept the communion alive and gave me a better appreciation of the bucolic optimism of ‘Into The Unknown and a version of ‘Pssyche’ that was as intense as I have witnessed – it drained me.
The encores were slightly different in both gigs, but the Leeds one worked better for me. Always good to hear ‘Turn To Red’, ‘Love Like Blood’ was much better placed than in the main set, amazing to hear ‘Change’ which was just brilliant and, appropriately, finishing off with ‘Pandemonium’…a track that encapsulates the Killing Joke worldview that without chaos there will be no hope. On both nights there was certainly chaos down the front; and hope, joy and fellowship aplenty.
I came away from both gigs feeling strangely renewed having been in communion with a band that gives no ground and takes no prisoners; a band that seems more vital than ever with every passing event that seems to take us closer to the abyss:
I can see tomorrow, I can see the world to come
I can see tomorrow, hear the pandemonium
Set lists (both gigs unless stated) :
The Wait/ Autonomous Zone/ Absent Friends (Manchester)/ Fall of Because/ Eighties/ The Beautiful Dead/ I Am The Virus/ Exorcism/ Delete/ Money is not our God/ Requiem/ Dawn of the Hive/ Panopticon/ Love Like Blood (Manchester)/ Wardance (Leeds)/ Into the Unknown/ Asteroid/ Pssyche
Encore (Manchester): Turn To Red/ Wardance/ Pandemonium
Encore (Leeds): Turn To Red/ Love Like Blood/ Change/ Pandemonium