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 at them.
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 in.
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 centre (C33).
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 work.
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 earlier.
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.
After “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.