I decided to tackle this in two parts. I’ll address the
occasion first and then deal with the aspect that reflects a particular personal
prejudice. The latter borne out of a dread that came over me when I first
read what format the evening of July 9th would take. Often I find
that if I worry about something long and hard enough, it doesn’t come to pass
but this time my hunch was entirely wrong.
My emotional investment was off the scale and the reason for this happening
– or Punk Mass – as it was billed - took place to mark the significance of an entity that is known to the world as Suicide.
As you’re undoubtedly aware but in case you came in late, the
first Suicide record was the sonic equivalent of “Eraserhead”. Nobody who ever
encountered it to this day has gone unaffected. Particularly back before their
influence became the DNA of EDM and several other genres. They have since
infiltrated the mainstream to a degree that might have seemed ludicrous when
Clash and Costello audiences were throwing everything that wasn’t nailed down
I just watched a YouTube clip where Marty talks about them being “interpreters”. The fact that the debut came out here via Bronze made it
possible that they were able to come here and terrorise Europe earlier than they might have
done otherwise. Once seen or heard, Suicide was never forgotten. No matter what camp you were
London was a nightmare last Thursday but at least the
weather was nice. Gridlock brought upon by the tube strike meant that the only
way to get anywhere was on the hoof. Prior to wandering off to the Barbican, I
was reacquainted with my old mucker Derek Harris who runs Lewis Leathers. WE
calculated that we hadn’t seen one another for 30 years but just picked up
where we left off and agreed to continue the reunion at the show.
I made it to the venue in plenty of time. It’s a sprawling
place but relatively easy to navigate and I had a great seat. Second row, front
Suicide – A Punk Mass was performed in two parts. An
ensemble that calls itself The Feral Choir kicked off both. I think I’ll leave it at that. This ensemble
included the Japanese combo Bo Ningen. One of them looked like Joey Ramone if
he’d raided Ian Astbury’s wardrobe. As a form of expression, I guess it has its place but not
anywhere in my proximity.
Then Henry Rollins bounds on and provides an introduction
from his perspective. I’m not a fan of much of his music but let’s not forget
that he sings on the version of “Ghost Rider” that made the soundtrack of “The
Crow”. I believe he is sincere and that his enthusiasm is infectious.
So then Rev swaggers on and limbers up for "Stigmata". Three
girl singers flank the stage and he crashes into a meditation upon the Del
Vikings “Whispering Bells” that sounded like it had just jumped off an extended
soundtrack for “Mulholland Drive” that Shadow Morton might have dreamt up. The
bar was raised pretty high at that point. The remainder of the set didn’t quite
deliver the same level of heart punch but that first one left me reeling.
There’s a consensus to the effect that we wish he would play more rather than
assault his keyboard but one can’t unscramble eggs and I’m going to be delving
into his solo catalogue when I’m done with this. I particularly favour Rev’s
allegiance to doo-wop and the romantic notion of that music that peppers his
Next up was the Vega family ensemble of Alan, Liz and Dante
performing material from the forthcoming release “It”. This was way more
visceral. Alan’s stage entrance was both invigorating and alarming. His face
was so expressive but as he told us, “I can’t walk anymore”, so I chose to
focus on his facial communication being that I was so close when he was able to
propel himself forward. The yelp is intact too. Liz and Dante cooked up the
squall that would bolster Alan’s recitation. I look forward to hearing the album.
A short intermission preceded the critical section of the Mass
– Suicide themselves, a force of nature like no other. This event was a
celebration of how far they’ve come having stuck to their blueprint if indeed there
ever was such a thing. Suicide has changed the landscape of music like hardly
anyone else in history. When that patented chopper blade riff started to pummel
then the full force came to bear on the auditorium. In the same way that
perhaps Dylan performs loose approximations of his catalogue, not much of the
set tonight resembles the recorded versions with the exception of “I
Surrender”. What was it Vega once said, “Once you write it, forget it” or
something to that effect. That was the one that was almost too much. Plain - off
the scale - beautiful. The interaction between Rev and Vega reached an apex
there and a tear streamed down the left side of my face at that point. This is
what we were here for, a deep connection to the mainframe.
A mighty “Woolly Bully” loop ripped through the place next
and a mini-riot erupted at the RH side of the hall (facing the stage). It was
instigated by one particular girl that was on a mission to get the place
moving. Maybe if the venue hadn’t been seated it would have spread further. It
was a valiant attempt for sure. I sort of wished I’d been closer to the action.
And then it was done. Just like that. We made it. My worst
fear unfounded at that juncture. After much stomping and shouting Alan and
Marty returned with Hank in tow for "Ghost Rider". By that point Alan looked like
he’d had enough. Rollins tried to cajole him but he didn’t want to. I can’t be
certain but it sounded like he said “I’m a fuckin’ parrot”. There wasn’t much
truth being screamed at that point but there had been a whole mess of that
What happened next completely and utterly killed the whole
experience stone dead for me and I’ll deal with that in part two. I posted on
the facedog when I got in that there were a few very high highs. And that their
ability to confound is utterly intact. I stand by that. Post-show, I drowned
some pretty deep sorrows with my friends Derek, Saaya and Karen. Had I just
gone back to the hotel there’s no telling how things might have turned out. So
I thank those kids for their sterling company and the moral support. Likewise
to the rest of the crew who continued with the post-mortem on Friday over
drinks and Indian cuisine.
My big concern is Alan’s health and I’m sad that I never got
to say hello. I consider the man to be a god as well as a friend. However, I
hope folks will appreciate my need to be honest. So here goes...
A very wise man not present at the event posed the question – “Why the fuck would anyone
think they can sit in with Suicide?” This is moot but Rollins did OK. He tried
to charge Alan with positive energy. The fact that the wee fella was having
none of it is another thing entirely. Henry’s generosity of spirit was evident and he earned his wings.
“Ghost Rider”, I looked down for a second just as “Dream Baby Dream” was taking
off. Lifting my head I’m all of a sudden confronted by a character so bereft of
humility that I don’t understand why anyone gives him the time of day. Someone
that has in my opinion, founded a career on appropriating premeditated 'cool'
as a device to flog his modular rock pantomime.
The singer from the group Savages had
also appeared to join in on the tone-deaf dismantling of what I consider to be a hymn. My fears had become a reality
to the point that I think a wee panic attack ensued. I rallied but they just went on howling like two constipated banshees for the duration.
I wasn’t in the minority judging by the reaction of people
around me. Not friends but fellow fans that obviously recognise a chancer when
confronted by one. Everything seemed to come to a grinding halt at that point.
I wandered out into the foyer in a daze, spitting feathers.
If you don't know who I'm talking about then head over here. You can compare and contrast. You may even disagree with me. That is entirely your prerogative even though you'd be wrong to.
Wandering back to the hotel under sedation, I wondered what Marty Thau would have made of all this. I also saw a Don Letts looky-likey unloading a Boots van on the Tottenham Court Road. It had been a rough night.