When I found out the Buzzcocks were coming to play in Dunedin, at ReFuel no less, I quite rightly did a double take. OK so they’re not the biggest band in the world, they’re not my favourite punk band either, but they’re still worth a look. And they have chosen Dunedin as one of just four NZ dates on their 40th Anniversary tour. Epic!
I last saw them at Reading Festival in 1990. That’s over a quarter of a century ago. I remember thinking back then that they were pretty old, sandwiched between the young indie bands of the time. What are they going to be like now? I know nothing whatsoever of their post-1980 output, save for one track ‘Reconcilliation’ from about 10 years ago which appeared on one of the JMFH compilations that were responsible for introducing me to so much good new indie stuff. But, as this is a 40th Anniversary Tour, we’re all guessing that they’re going to be playing the hits, the whole hits and nothing but the hits.
I did a little bit of revision beforehand, exploring 2006’s Flat Pack Philosophy and 2014’s The Way. Not too bad, as it happens. Typical Buzzcocks formula, but the added bonus of decent production values, way better than the thin sound of the ‘classic’ era recordings. Anyway, I doubt they’re going to do much of it anyway. We turn up a little late, thanks to couple of pubs along the way, and the queue to get into ReFuel is ALL students, all dressed in dayglo green (St Patrick’s Day, innit). I have a moment of minor panic then I see the real queue – to the Students Union building next door. Phew, it consists almost entirely of what I would term ‘appropriately’ dressed and ‘sympathetically’ aged people. I am not going to be old enough to be all their dads, thank fuck. There are a lot of black leather jackets, a lot of tattoos, a few mohicans even – and barely a soul under the age of 30. I’ve never been inside this building, but it’s quite a bit larger than ReFuel – I’m guessing they outsold that and the Uni took the decision to move it upstairs. Apparently we’re only in the foyer of the building, the actual hall is much bigger but I estimate there are 300 or 400 people in there, enough to create a good atmosphere and make it look respectable while allowing enough room to get near the stage and (more importantly) the bar.
There was a support act, some local lads by all accounts, but they’re long gone by the time we get in, and the main act’s roadies are just putting the last few bits in place. Just have time to grab a few drinks and head to the back of the sound desk (best sound in the house, obv). At about 10pm two old blokes and two slightly younger blokes wander on stage and we’re all systems go. I haven’t seen recent pictures of the band but bloody hell, Pete Shelley has gotten old! He’s sporting a bushy grey beard now, and a considerable gut and looks a lot older than his (reported) 60 years. Steve Diggle has fared a little better, mainly because he’s not overhanging his waistband by so much. I have no idea who the bassist and drummer are. Still, when I look at these guys next to say, Iron Maiden, who are all older and look much younger, it makes me wonder which category I’ll fall into when I’m in my 7th decade…
I needn’t have worried about ‘new’ material. I don’t think they played anything off the two recentish albums – it was more or less a greatest hits tour. They know what people want. Their Wikipedia entry talks about their last few tours in the UK being support act to bands I’ve not heard of, so clearly their stock at home isn’t what it was. I’ve omitted to bring my earplugs so I’m listening to rock music as God intended it for the first time in several years – it’s an excellent sound, not as muddy or earsplittingly loud mix as is usual for the Uni. Shelley and Diggle have been doing this a long time, and although I wouldn’t call it ‘tight’, it’s absolutely perfect. Two buzzsaw guitars and Shelley’s voice and Diggle’s backing vocals (which really consist of nothing more than ‘oh-oooh-oh’) and nothing longer than 3 and a half minutes and this is punk. Forget all the ‘punk’ around now, this is real punk. Green Day, Blink 182, Offspring et al can undoubtedly play their guitars much faster and louder, and could probably beat the Buzzcocks in a drinking competition or arm wrestle, but they’ll never be more than revivalists. Talking of being able to play the guitar, Shelley’s solos are still er, basic, to put it in the kindest terms possible. That’s not the point though, is it? If he were able to trip up and down the fretboard like Yngwie Malmsteen it wouldn’t be punk any more, it’s as though being ham-fisted is a requirement for this particular brand of music. For this particular brand of music as practised by them that started it off, at least.
They rattle through Fast Cars, Autonomy, I Don’t Mind, Get On Our Own, Love You More, Nothing Left, Harmony In My Head amongst many others, in a frantic 60 minute set. Not a lot of bants with the crowd, save for a ‘hello Dunedin’ and a ‘thank you very much, good night’ but no down time either. It’s relentless, straight from one song to the next and all over far too quickly.
The encore was solid gold – What Do I Get? Orgasm Addict and Ever Fallen In Love and to be honest I would have happily paid $65 just to see that 10 minute set. Brilliant. Fucking brilliant. Black Sabbath next month are going to have to go some to beat this, especially given that the ticket was nearly 3x as expensive…