MUSIC REVIEW | Buzzcocks get an eager crowd at the Varsity Theater


The world of punk music has a particular problem with eating its own young. Whether it’s compulsive self-destruction, glamorous nihilism or the power of raw instinctive passion, the history of punk music is full of artists who died well before they should have. Someone or other said that these artists spare the rest of us the disappointment of them getting bad or selling out. Their legacy and youthful energy is forever frozen in time. They may be dead, but they never got old. Yet, there are a few stalwarts that carried their careers on with integrity. Others have merely cashed in on the promises of their younger selves. When a band like the Buzzcocks, who created the very genre that so many others have taken as thir own, play a live show in 2014 these thoughts begin to buzz like guitar feedback.

The Buzzcocks made it clear from the start that they were performing as a live punk band, regardless of age or history. They were there to blast out their tunes and get the crowd going as loud and fast as they could. The fact tha band had  more energy than the predominantly middle-aged crowd was pretty clear from the start, too. Steve Diggle (vocals, guitar) has said in the past that they still tour and play together because they have so much fun with the music. This was evident as they played very much like a set of punk dudes and not like musical legends. There was a refreshing purity in their appoach, a vibe that came from what appeared to be a desire to just put on a good show. There was some impressive lighting, a few onstage guitar antics, but for the most part it was a classic stripped down punk show. The band had all four effects pedals on the stage and apparently played the same instruments all the way through the night.

Of course, the other side of this is that it was a basic show too. No matter what the energy and intent is, these guys didn’t jump and smash around the stage like their younger peers. So, this was a little frustrating because the stage show didn’t entirely match the fierceness of the music, but like I said, neither did the crowd. This disconnect didn’t lessen the show too much for me, because I was pretty thrilled to just see a band that was the opener at  the second Sex Pistols gig playing on a local stage. Maybe there were a few in the audience that had seen them in their earliest years, but for most of the crowd the wasn’t really an option. 

The band held their biggest hits until the encore, and at that point the crowd exploded into jumping and singing along. “What do I Get”, “Ever Fallen in Love” and finally “Orgasm Addict” somehow brought the energy back to the entire crowd that was missing during the main part of the show. I appreciate the desire to hold the pop hits in your hand, but popping one or two of them in earlier might have increased the intensity of the show and the crowd. 

Regardless, I think a show like makes a lie of the notion that the early dead are somehow artistically pure. As a fan, it is much more rewarding to see a living part of history still playing their music, old and new,  after the scene has moved on and the press has found other people to follow.  Sitting in your room and staring at pictures of Sid Vicious is probably a fine thing to do for a newbie, but the fact remains that you will never really see him perform and never watch him develop as an artist, for better or worse. The Buzzcocks are a reminder that commitment to the art can be the best way to sustain a band long after the burst of youth has passed.  With apologies to Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), let me suggest that The Buzzcocks are still big and maybe our culture has gotten small.

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