Killing Joke – Kevin Wood reviews the band’s triumphant Zodiac gig

Kevin WoodRemember that gig? I don’t I wasn’t there! Even zodiac is not what it used to be anymore. This review was originally published on BBC Oxford website on 4 May 2006. That’s precisely 7 years ago minus a day to date! Kevin, I think you have some gig review cathing up to do!

 

 

Towards the end of the support band’s set, a man in a black jacket brushes past and slips through the swelling crowd towards the side of the stage. No big deal, right? After all, we’re in the Zodiac, it’s gig night and the place is awash with black T-shirts, silhouettes and shadows – there’d be something wrong if it wasn’t. But this geezer is different… he’s wearing a hat. The kind of hat favoured by a certain frontman of a certain gang-of-four who just happen to be playing in this very room within the hour.

Shine a light. It’s Jaz Coleman. And I nearly spilled my Guinness on him.

Most people seem oblivious to the singer’s presence, but one or two aren’t and scuttle off to say hello/get something signed… good old Mr Coleman, that nice friendly bloke from Killing Joke. He’s mellowed, hasn’t he?

Except he hasn’t, no. Not at all. When stage time arrives, it’s a very different Jaz Coleman who emerges. This one – the showman, the shaman, whatever you see fit – sports a faded black boiler suit, streaks of black face paint and the thousand-yard stare of a possessed MC in a circus of crazies. What happened in the last hour? Where did mild Mr Coleman go? Well, never mind all that – it’s time for a gathering, a celebration of life in the shadow of the apocalypse, and Killing Joke are the soundtrack. The Eastern-tinged intro ushers in Communion’s elephantine Kashmir Zep stomp – a stupendous start – before Wardance, Primitive, Total Invasion and Requiem intensify the Zodiac heat.

And yet, despite the wealth of old classics, this performance is more than a mere trek through nostalgia country (anyone holding out for Love Like Blood can head home) because Killing Joke have just dropped a beast of a record on our laps. Dense, uncompromising and vital, Hosannas from the Basements of Hell taps into the original KJ ethos but updates it completely. Gratitude, the first of three songs from the new album, is HUGE – a slow, crawling dirge weighed down by an obese bassline worthy of Godflesh at their most bloated. Bloodsports provides comparatively accessible relief until Hosannas from the Basements of Hell launches a 3-song thrashalong that starts Motorhead-fast and then cranks it up into the realms of fevered dementia. The crowd is off on one, Jaz has been off on one all night, and this is exactly what Killing Joke live are all about – a little bit of chaos, madness and sweat between friends. Unperturbed by it all are guitarist Geordie and bassist Raven, a wizened duo whose physical calm is in direct contrast to the noise they unleash. In direct contrast to them – and let’s face it, he has no choice – is new Joke recruit Benny Calvert, pounding out frantic tribal thrash rhythms on his kit. The unsung hero of the gig? Very very possibly.

Majestic – another stab of urgent paranoia from the new album – is the last of the Hosanna tracks, leaving the band to blast home with high-energy faves like Whiteout, The Wait, Pssyche and Unspeakable, proving beyond all doubt that impending middle age means nothing to Killing Joke. They hit it hard right to the end, closing with a swaggering Pandemonium. It’s a triumphant gig – let’s hope it’s not another 20 years before they return.

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