This review exists due to a last-minute decision to go and see a band who – cliche alert – have more tunes than you remember. They may be embarking on a new tour in their 36th year of existence, but their politically-spiked proto-punk is a true reflection of the spirit of late 70s rock ‘n’ roll which still sounds relevant today.
Date: March 22, 2013
Venue: Rock City
Stiff Little Fingers exist because punk rock should never die. Ask any of today’s generic three-chord Ramones wannabees and they’re likely to wax lyrical about how SLF became an inspirational resource of which they tapped into when they first started out. Whether they’re being honest or just blowing smoke up the band’s asses is academical. The point is, any punk band worth their salt knows that SLF are seminal punk rock titans.
While it’s true that only two of the original members remain – their robust ringleader Jake Burns, who has led the band since its inception in 1977 (incidentally, the year before your reviewer was born), and Ali McMordie, who rejoined the band when The Jam’s sticksman Bruce Foxton upped sticks and left – they’ve lost none of their agility.
Despite numerous line-up changes over their illustrious 36-year career, that politically-charged punk spirit remains intact, and that indelible mark on British punk rock culture hasn’t faded in the slightest.
And it’s this retrospective and historical significance which keeps their fans flocking back to see them, and Rock City is a thriving den of aging punk rockers, tattooed miscreants and hardened SLF superfans, most of whom have been enjoying a booze-fuelled Saturday afternoon/evening, regardless of the inclement weather which, at one stage, threatened to scupper the gig, as snow and ice made Talbot Street resemble an ice rink.
But the “Show will go on”, read the band’s official Twitter page, and it’s just as well, otherwise the intoxicated crowd – some of whom had already clashed on the stairs outside the venue – may have turned very ugly indeed.
But that catastrophe was avoided as soon as the band ambled onto the stage and launched into 1981 favourite ‘Go For It’, and Rock City soon became a swaying, wired sea of drunkards, bound by a shared love of the band. And booze.
The set list reeked of classic punk rock, evocative and powerfully emotive to the ardent faithful, particularly on crowd faves ‘Fly the Flag’, ‘Nobody’s Hero’ and ‘Liar’s Club’.
We also witness a moment of catharsis, as Burns mournfully reminisces about his agonizing fight with depression. The crowd act as his comfort blanket for a second, his pathos pouring into the hearts of those who adore him. Indeed, ‘Not Going Back’, which references his pain, is a plaintive, almost eerie reminder that punk is exactly blood, sweat and tears. The tears bit isn’t strictly true. This is punk rock after all, but you get the gist.
With an early curfew to adhere to, the crowd’s cries for more are sadly futile, after the ludicrously superb ‘Alternative Ulster’ ends the set.
Boozy, brutal and brilliant, Stiff Little Fingers’ pioneering punk ethos still holds a place in today’s rich musical tapestry.