The Buzzcocks

Live at the El Rey Theatre - 6/6/2003

Music Reviews The Buzzcocks
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The Buzzcocks

LOS ANGELES, CA -- The Buzzcocks certainly don’t attract your garden variety, Johnny-come-lately, punk rock fans. The Friday night show at the El Rey Theatre was packed with plenty of Misfits, Ramones and Clash fans—not a single Good Charlotte or Sum 41 t-shirt to be seen. In other words, this was an audience that recalled punk rock back when it still meant something.

It’s now been 25 years since The Buzzcocks released its first album, and with a new self-titled release on Merge Records, the pivotal British group shows no signs of artistic slowdown. This LA tour stop offered an opportunity to watch the band play almost as many songs as it has years under its belt. Since there was little chatter between the speedy songs, the Buzzcocks’ concert experience called to mind the no-nonsense intensity of a Ramones show. The members of The Buzzcocks are built for speed; lower gears aren’t even in their repertoire.

The recent deaths of The Clash’s Joe Strummer and two of the original Ramones, Joey and Dee Dee, may have inspired many of these old-time punk rock fans to come out and see The Buzzcocks while they're still around. Lead singer Pete Shelley’s gray hair and pudgy old body acted as visible reminders that our remaining punk pioneers aren’t getting any younger. Shelley—who along with original guitarist, Steve Diggle, leads the group’s current line-up—may not exactly be the picture of youth anymore, but his sharp, nasally vocals, and rolling eyes on snotty numbers like “What Do I Get,” “Fast Cars” and “Ever Fallen In Love,” proved that he still is an effectively sarcastic musical communicator.

Canadian band Billy Talent—formed in late 1999 and named after a character in the film adaptation of Michael Turner's book Hard Core Logo—preceded The Buzzcocks with a 45-minute set of confrontational rock music highlighted by vocalist Ben Kowalewicz’s Johnny Rotten-inspired whines and Iggy Pop-style stage maneuvers.

In between songs, Kowalewicz gave the crowd a few lessons about punk attitude, name-dropped Avril Lavigne and even mentioned Toronto’s current SARS problem. The members of Billy Talent may not be the most polite Canadians you’ll ever run into, but they refuse to be ignored.

Like the other bands on the bill, openers, The God Awfuls, steered clear of the trappings of modern pop-punk. In a set that included an angry anti-war song (Anybody still remember when punk rock used to be synonymous with political activism?), this group spat out a half-hour’s worth of rocket-powered vitriol.