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The big dig: Buzzcocks’ guitarist Steve Diggle. Photo: John Whipple

Addicted to Noise
By Kirsten Ferguson

The Buzzcocks, Billy Talent, the Erotics
Valentine’s, July 10

Call it the rock & roll version of a midlife crisis. Middle-aged yuppie men may trade in their SUVs for sports cars, but a seminal punk-rock band like the Buzzcocks—touring 28 years after their formation—ratchets up the decibels and buries mortality with deafening sound and a blur of songs at high speed. The Buzzcocks’ show at Valentine’s last Thursday was loud all right—even the opening strains of punk classics like “Boredom” and “I Don’t Mind” were hard to pluck out of the overwhelming sonic din. The band played with all the blind momentum of an aggro mosh pit (the crowd followed suit by forming their own), as they hurled themselves from song to song without a pause in between.

At a show by aging punk legends—the Buzzcocks were one of the most influential punk bands to emerge from England in the mid-to-late 1970s—blistering volume and whirlwind velocity are to be expected. It wasn’t entirely necessary, though. The Buzzcocks are far smarter than most punk bands, with a catalog of melodic and delightfully perverse pop songs that don’t need to be buried under a blanket of noise. But the band—featuring original Buzzcocks Pete Shelley (lead vocals) and Steve Diggle (guitar) along with Tony Barber (bass) and Phil Barker (drums)—appeared to enjoy the crowd havoc wreaked by their opening charge through old songs. A red-faced and somewhat haggard Shelley wore a bemused grin as the mosh pit widened during the band’s breathless rush from “Oh Shit” and “Harmony in My Head” to “Love You More.”

Mid-set, the Buzzcocks debuted some of the new songs (“Wake Up Call,” “Sick City Sometimes”) from their recent self-titled album on American indie label Merge. The new material—propulsive, fast and thickly muscular—blended in rather seamlessly with the old (though the mosh pit stopped moving as if dumbfounded). As the gnomelike Diggle wielded his chainsaw guitar, the Buzzcocks closed their set with an encore that replayed several of their timeless odes to sexual frustration. Shelley faked a humorous “ah, ah, ah” climax on “Orgasm Addict,” while the spurned-love song “Ever Fallen in Love” demonstrated why it may be the best musical kiss-off ever written.

Openers Billy Talent, an up-and-coming emo-punk band from Toronto, scored bonus points for their inventive hair (from white-boy Kid ’n Play flattop to jagged Emo Phillips bowl) and for having a vein-popping frontman who truly looked like he belonged in a psych ward. But man, that singer’s pain-inducing shrieking was barely tolerable. I’m sure there are people out there who think high-pitched screaming personifies angst in a cool sort of way. But me, I just wanted to leave the room. Albany’s premier glam-punk band the Erotics celebrated the release of their brand new CD All That Glitters Is Dead with a set that was far more entertaining—from the crash-and-burn of “It’s True” to the tasteless fun of “Gas Chamber Barbie Doll.”

Rolling Numbers, Rock & Rolling

Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon
Pepsi Arena, July 12

It always seemed high hypocrisy that Journey, Styx and REO Speedwagon have been dismissed to the nether regions as “corporate rock,” as if being in any successful band isn’t corporate to a large degree. (The Rolling Stones are a veritable Microsoft of the stadium world.) So cynicism and hipness aside, this triple bill at the Pepsi was—quite simply—a feast of great tunes and top-notch performances. Like some kind of three-headed living jukebox, these chart monsters of the late ’70s and early ’80s roared through their hits with verve, casting the primarily 30- to 50-year-old audience into throes of nostalgia, as the tunes (which seem so familiar as to be part of our genetic makeup) sparked latent memories and a few raised Bic lighters.

REO Speedwagon proved a hard act to follow, with the ultra-fit and tan Kevin Cronin—curly mullet long ago lopped off for a peroxided shock of hair—leading them through a powerful romp, beginning with the rock-heavy “Ridin’ the Storm Out.” (“He’s even gooder than he was in the ’70s!” shouted a beer-swilling, ersatz critic to his family.) Founding guitarist-songwriter Gary Richrath can only be been seen on Behind the Music these days—permed, bloated and unsteadily reflecting upon his party-filled years in the group (looking not unlike a soccer mom gone to pot); he has been replaced more than ably by Dave Amato, who knocked off Richrath’s wailing, heart-tugging solos one after another. REO provided the peak of the whole evening when they ran through side one of their best album, High Infidelity. The group have defined the power-ballad over the years, and their goose-fleshy pièce de résistance, “Keep on Loving You,” had several couples earnestly making out (who were way too old to be).

The Tommy Shaw-led Styx had their work cut out for them, but rose to the task, with Shaw offering blistering solos and looking much the same as he did back then. He bookended the show with his signature pair of tunes, “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Renegade.” Lucky sonuvabitch Lawrence Gowen sounds exactly like departed singer Dennis DeYoung, and he added his own theatrical twist with a spinning keyboard platform—he even climbed up on the keyboard itself a few times and stood poised triumphantly, like a tight-pantsed Henry V. Highlights came with “Lady” and “Come Sail Away,” both of which define the formula of Styx’s best work: a sweet sugary opening that is soon battered aside by hard-hitting rock crescendos. The more powerful moments of the set were undercut by a dogged insistence on showcasing the “new stuff,” most of which extinguished the Bic lighters, and sent a few folks trundling off for soft drinks. Nevertheless, the hard-rocking “Renegade” polished things off in fine fashion.

Journey’s Steve Augeri looks like a poodle-haired version of former singer Steve Perry, and sounds just like him. (Where do they find these guys?) But while Augeri can approximate Perry’s sound and pitch, his voice doesn’t quite have the same resonance. No matter: Despite some problems with Jonathan Cain’s keyboard and a few murky vocal mixes, the band were in top form, with founding guitarist Neal Schon stealing the show with his cresting, euphoric leads. The best renditions included “Wheel in the Sky,” “Don’t Stop Believin,’ ” “Anyway You Want It,” and an encore of both “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ “ and “Faithfully”—the latter replete with life-on-the-road montage. It was like time hadn’t budged: Your banana-seat bike was still in the garage and your older brother was rolling those funny cigarettes on his vinyl copy of Escape.

—Erik Hage

Where There’s Smoke, There’s a Chimney Sweep

Blasé Debris, Plastic Jesus
Valentine’s, July 11

I am going to marry a fantastic woman next week. I say this because of the little things. Her learned advice on how to handle life’s terms without getting arrested, her lifelong commitment to education, art and good food, and the fact that when the male stripper at her bachelorette party was exposed as a rank amateur, she stripped for him instead. Yes, life is full of surprises, and while my beloved was lap-dancing a guy with two left feet, I got a little surprise of my own.

You see, I thought longtime area punk Duane Beer had finally found a niche that he could run with forever, wrongly assuming that he had made peace and become one with his Irish heritage and all of its glorious triumphs and historical disasters. Wrong again. The man is constantly reinventing himself, this time as a 19th-century chimney sweep. Yes, I said chimney sweep, perhaps even the apparition of one, and each band member dressed accordingly as, um, his supporting cast. Beer’s almost operatic narration of such a plight was conveyed over bombastic double-bass work and cutting riffage, a hematogenous banquet of poor man’s humble punk. Tunes like “Here Come the Poor,” “Grace Coal” and “Bunkbed Rebellion” from their new CD, Bury the Hatchet, retain very recognizable punk elements (think Danzig-era Misfits and Bad Brains), but this is certainly the heaviest, strangest project the man has spewed forth since the Plaid days of yore.

I’m gonna need time to digest all of this, especially yet another shift in vocal styling and a new theatrical caravan that includes a ton of familiar faces (great to see former Erotics skin-pounder Tony Sewers back in action), but the band delivered air-tight dogfight music, loud and beautifully indiscreet. Whoever coined the phrase, “If you can’t hear the music, you’re gonna think the dancer’s crazy” would definitely use Blasé Debris as a textbook example, but don’t take my word for it. Probably something you should see for yourself.

Plastic Jesus came ripping out of the box just before with their brand of decidedly American, working-class punk piety. This trio of hooligans is a demoniac cross between a fast and loose Eddie Cochran and all that was good about ’80s American punk, and is only beginning to gain recognition in the area. Drawing mostly from their upcoming release, So You Say Rock and Roll Is a Sin, they hammered out a solid set of goods with forked tongues and the subtlety of a flying mallet, not paying too much attention to the details and pretty much getting all messy and filthy, which was fine by me. Apologies go out to Shock Nagasaki and Stand Up Citizen, who hit the upstairs stage before I got there. Whaddaya want? I got a honeymoon to plan, dammit.

—Bill Ketzer 


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