Killing Joke / Turbowolf / BlackWaters – Bristol O2 Academy – 10/11/2018
British post-punk outfit Killing Joke is celebrating their 40th anniversary with a huge world tour. They achieved mainstream success in the 1980s, becoming a hugely influential band. They’re a band renowned for their live shows, which often divide fans and critics. When Bristolians Turbowolf were added to the line-up, we couldn’t wait to see how the night would shape up.
BlackWaters (7) joined Killing Joke on a handful of dates, and luckily for us, they brought their indie infused punk rock to Bristol. Their music and live performance were influenced by a range of styles, from their riffs that scream Arctic Monkeys fans, to singer Max’s movements that mirrored the late Joy Division singer, Ian Curtis.
The sound balance was slightly off for their first few songs, but this didn’t deter them. Max threw himself around the stage recklessly, while his band held things together with their funky bass lines and guitar hooks. The chorus of ‘Fuck Yeah’ was a nod to the punk movement, with its brash lyrics and punchy drums. ‘People Street’ saw BlackWaters really relax into their performance, as vocals harmonized and Max continued to dance about the stage.
BlackWaters were dynamic and played songs filled with energy to get the audience warmed up. Throughout their full-on thirty minute set, the small crowd was smiling and nodding appreciatively – the band did enough to win us over.
Up next was the mighty Turbowolf (9), who were back in their hometown and filled with confidence. Flying straight into ‘Cheap Magic’, the band got a handful of fans bouncing around and singing along. The concept of Turbowolf was new to the majority of the audience, but frontman Chris Georgiadis’ stage presence quickly won over many people.
The band’s usual bassist Lianna Lee Davies is taking a break from touring after having a baby, but she was invited on stage to cheers from the crowd and had ‘Solid Gold’ dedicated to her. Guitarist Andy Gosh conjured huge riffs with bass that rattled the audience’s bones, but without Davies, the stage felt oddly empty. ‘Very Bad’ saw Turbowolf begin to get theatrical, with flashing lights and heavy reverb on Chris’s vocals creating an eerie atmosphere.
The musical ability of the trio on stage really shone as they sped up song outros and slowed down massive breakdowns. Without their bassist, much more emphasis was placed on the electronic elements of their genre-bending tunes; Chris frequently noodled away at the keys, adding little melodies to subtly lift the music. This may not have been a typical Turbowolf show, but it was certainly a great one. The band connected with the audience, with Chris being the focal point; they encouraged the crowd to clap, jump, and otherwise get involved. Their enjoyment became our enjoyment, and a large part of the crowd was grinning by the end of their colossal set.
Killing Joke (6) was the band that Bristol turned out in full force to watch. As the O2 buzzed in anticipation, we questioned the appeal of the band. Of course, this question was answered as soon as the four-piece came on stage; frontman Jaz Coleman was quite the character. He was dressed in a black boiler suit with white face paint and shuffled stiff-limbed about the stage. Every member of the audience knew the words, and their voices joined Coleman’s as he roared the lyrics of ‘Unspeakable’.
While Coleman was clearly a fan-favourite, his band captured our attention. Guitarist Geordie Walker held down the riffs while bassist Martin (Youth) Glover and drummer Paul Ferguson kept time. Killing Joke’s sound was huge, clearly honed over the last 40 years. While their sound was great, their set felt monotonous; each song flowed into the next without any communication or introduction from Coleman.
“I’m living in the eighties” was both a lyric from ‘Eighties’ and, we feel, a true statement from Coleman. His careful movements and limited and measured speech between songs suggested that he was afraid to shatter
the revered image of him that his fans held. He didn’t make a connection with the audience like Turbowolf and BlackWaters did, and disappointingly no stories were shared from the band’s 40 years together.
The anniversary tour that Killing Joke has embarked on has given fans a chance to see their favourite band live again, bringing back memories of their younger years. The audience sang along, bopping, dancing and jumping to the beat. Killing Joke are famed for being musically diverse, yet each song seemed the same; ‘Asteroid’ became ‘The Butcher’ without any clear way of distinguishing them. Their monstrous hour-long set was packed with theatrical elements and musical ability, but it lacked a spark. The band didn’t grin from ear to ear as they ploughed through their songs, nor did they encourage the audience to get involved. We may be missing a trick here – this could be part of the Killing Joke’s image but for us, it didn’t feel right.
The encore of ‘Love Like Blood’ and ‘Wardance’ saw things pick up a little, as these were huge hits from back in the day. Perhaps it was an off-day for the band, with drummer Paul feeling ill. It’s not possible for bands to bring their A-game every day. Killing Joke’s Bristol performance suggested that they’ve become a nostalgia band; on tape, their dynamic tracks infused with progressive elements really works, but played live at the O2 Academy, the tunes felt a bit deflated.
Review: Dottie Giles