Killing Joke

100 Club, London - 9 March 2023

"Should have been epic... was strangely underwhelming"

Killing Joke emerged in 1979 with a heavy, heavy punk attitude and serious dub, funk and New York disco influences. They would go on to make several mind-bendingly good records and influence a massive number of bands (Amebix/ Ministry being the most obvious) and be retroactively hailed as the godfathers of both Industrial and Goth (neither of which is true), before collapsing under the weight of their drug use and insane occult beliefs. They have reconvened in a myriad of line-ups since but never managed to equal the power and focus of the early releases. First and foremost a punk band, and at their best when channelling that spirit. I have very little time for their occult esotericism and related Crowleyian nonsense, but it seemed to work for them, using ritual as a way to focus/channel creative energy.

So; one of my favourite bands in a really small (sold out) venue, playing the first two LPs and attendant singles (i.e. the 'good ones'). What could possibly go wrong?

Firstly, I had damaged my knee in some unspecified way - it hurt and was puffy, but not to the point that I was out of action, but I decided that I wasn't going to drink, as if I did, I would inevitably go down the front*, which would inevitably end up with my REALLY damaging my knee.

Secondly, it was sold out, so was going to be HEAVING, and heaving with hardcore Killing Joke fans, not the most reasonable and peaceable of crowds.

As it turns out, it was rather a sedate affair. Despite my fears that it was going to mayhem from the off, with elbows everywhere, the crowd wasn't that rough and it was quite subdued until the end. The band were in fine fettle, actually seeming to be enjoying themselves. Jaz mercifully kept the lunatic rambling to a minimum, confining himself to just the one gnomic utterance about the Third World War not being a war between countries, but against populations. I wondered briefly whether he was going to elaborate on this, but he chose to let it hang there, without context or explanation.

They played the albums in order, meaning they opened with Requiem followed Wardance, both of which would normally get the crowd frothing at the mouth, but there was very little more than a bit of head bobbing, which was weird.

I feel this was partly due to problems with the sound - it was generally just too quiet, and Geordie's guitar was really low in the mix. I was pretty much centre stage in front of the engineer's box and I was straining to hear him. This wasn't that much of a problem most of the time, as the bass and drums pretty much carry a lot of the songs, but on The Wait you really need the riffs to be on the skull-crushing end of the spectrum, and they just weren't.

Killing Joke 100 Club 2023
     Killing Joke 100 Club 2023    Killing Joke 100 Club 2023

Photos by John Marshall

But also, I think, a slight case of "Is this really happening?"; people seemed slightly over-awed to be THAT close to the stage, and also most people there were getting on a bit…

Apart from Bloodsport, which I had previously dismissed as a bit pointless, but on this occasion, really stood out as a great dance tune, the material from What's THIS For… fared better sound-wise than the stuff off Killing Joke, with Fall of Because and Madness especially standing out, but it wasn't until the flurry of tracks from early non-album singles at the end that the band (and audience) really caught fire. Are You Receiving and Almost Red (but sadly no Nervous System), got everyone (including you humble, partially crippled reporter) jumping up and down**, but it was Change, possibly the best KJ song EVER, that really got the room going. It's stolen wholesale from Me and Baby Brother by War***, but it doesn't matter. On record, the feedback solo is SO fucking brilliant, but again the lack of guitar in the live mix let the song down. Having said that, it's no small thing to be in a crowded basement with everyone shouting "CHANGE!" in unison.

My zero alcohol intake and nervousness about injuring myself may have put a dampener on my enthusiasm, but given the intensity of most of the Killing Joke performances I've seen, this should have been epic, and if I'm honest, the evening was strangely underwhelming. 5/10

Setlist: Requiem, Wardance, Tomorrow's World, Bloodsport, The Wait, Complications, S.O.36, Primitive, The Fall of Because, Tension, Unspeakable, Butcher, Follow the Leaders, Madness, Who Told You How?, Exit
Encore: Change, Are You Receiving?, Turn to Red, Pssyche

Review: Nick Hydra
Photos: John Marshall

* 'Going down the front' is what people used to call 'Starting a pit' before there was such a thing as a 'pit', or God help us, a 'circle pit'. When I was your age, television was called books…

** And yes, I did regret it later, thanks for asking.

*** Ask the internet.