Killing Joke + Brix Smith + The Imbeciles
@ The Apollo, London
9th April 2022
Review and pictures by Graham Hilling
So it’s been 4 years since I last saw Killing Joke and since then we have been through a pandemic and are in the midst of a war that threatens to spill into Europe and involve the entire world. What better backdrop for a Killing Joke gig, you might ask, but more on that later.
Tonight’s show is kicked off in style by New Yorkers The Imbeciles. As with all of this evening’s bands, there is a thread running through each, and the thread is Killing Joke bassist, Youth. Youth, aside from being a founding member of KJ, has a very impressive record when it comes to production and has worked with a ton of notable artistes, many of them household names!
Back to this evening though, the link with The Imbeciles is that their latest album (“Imbecilia”) was co-written and produced by Youth. They play with a kind of pop meets punk style of music and open the set with “Name of the Rose”, playing to a sparse crowd to begin with, it doesn’t take long for the room to fill and to provide a decent enough audience.
“You’re Gonna Wanna” (the current single) and “Tiny Blue People” are standout tracks with hooks aplenty. Every time I’ve seen Killing Joke, I’ve been impressed with the diverse nature of the supports, The Imbeciles are no exception and go down well while being quite removed from sounding anything remotely like Killing Joke.
They end the set with “Let’s Go” which sees John Kent encouraging some audience participation. While not getting everyone in the room to sing along there’s enough assistance for the band to keep everyone happy and it is clear they have made a few new fans.
Thanks are paid to Killing Joke for inviting them onto the tour and they leave the stage after a pretty short set.
The next support comes from another Youth collaborator, Brix Smith, famous primarily for her tenure in The Fall. Once again Youth has co-written and produced the forthcoming album from Brix, “Valley of the Dolls” and for this tour Brix has brought together an all female supergroup including members of My Bloody Valentine and Deux Furieuses.
They burst onto the stage with a truckload of energy, immediately looking at home on what is a pretty large stage at the Apollo. Brix herself whirls about the stage like the seasoned performer she is, sweeping from one side of the stage to the other.
She explains that this set of gigs is the first time some (or all?) of these songs have been performed live. You wouldn’t know it though, the band are tight and apart from the odd nod to one another there is nothing that gives any hint that this is a newly formed band.
The tracklist for “Valley of the Dolls” hasn’t been released yet (at least as far as I know) but you can bet that the set this evening will be comprised of songs from the album. Which is good because there are some rollicking good tracks here. Live, these songs remind me a little of Hole, they are energetic and powerful and Brix’s voice suits them perfectly. She is also clearly loving being back on a stage following the last couple of years of almost no live gigs.
The songs are full of social commentary and personal experiences of life. The result is something that sounds genuine and angsty without any of the contrivance that I sometimes feel is present with other bands covering these sorts of subjects. “California Smile” & “Valley Girl” are both perfect examples of this.
We even get a rendition of “Totally Wired” which sounds slightly out of place if I’m honest, although I completely understand why this has been included in the set. Brix explains how the collaboration with Youth came about and there is clearly a lot of respect for the guy.
This is a short set tonight and the closing number “Black Butterfly” is a slower, more somber affair which shows a slightly different side of the performance and sets the mood nicely for the highlight of the evening, the mighty Killing Joke.
After a short break for preparing the stage, the members of Killing Joke take to the stage one by one, with Jaz Coleman finally completing the lineup. Looking at the assembled members it is interesting to see how different they all are. Jaz, a man on the edge, always looking like he’s about to explode into his own world of madness dressed in his usual boiler suit. Geordie, the coolest guitarist on the planet, Youth looking quite unique, with his own immutable style, and Big Paul on the drums looking amazingly normal. And let’s not forget Roi Robertson on the side of the stage, adding keys to the live performance.
Killing Joke are one of those bands I grew up with and have seen numerous times, in massive venues and small clubs. While the recorded material has sometimes not been to my taste, they have never failed to deliver live and this evening I had high expectations.
The first three songs, “Love Like Blood”, “Wardance” & “The Fall of Because” set the bar extremely high and reassures us that this is going to be special gig. The irony of “I am the Virus” in the present circumstances is not lost and “Requiem” sees the whole of the audience singing along.
The volume is cranked up quite high but thankfully the ear plugs do a great job of taming the frequencies, which actually makes the live sound pretty good. As each member of the band is as different from one another, so their elements in Killing Joke are different too. I guess the sound is mainly characterized by Geordie’s guitar, which is raw and cutting, such a juxtaposition to the guy playing the guitar who barely breaks a sweat throughout the evening. The drums of Big Paul, which follow a 4 on the floor pattern in quite a few songs and tribal thumping in others – this often takes the music in an unusual and unexpected directions. Combine this with the solid bass of Youth, anchoring the chaos and add in Jaz Coleman’s vocals and you have something pretty unique.
“We Have Joy” is another cracking song and a crowd pleaser. “Turn to Red” takes us right back to the beginning, “Mathematics of Chaos” is introduced by Jaz, “…..everything on the world stage is planned…”. It is interesting to see that the set this evening contains a few songs that you wouldn’t normally have expected to see but the closers “The Wait” & “Pssyche” bring everything back into familiar territory and sharp focus. This would have been a great way to end the gig but following a few minutes break, Killing Joke return to the stage for a four song encore, which includes the mighty “Change”. This has everyone singing along with the infectious chorus.
Throughout, Coleman flicks around the stage, at times pulling little dances and shapes from nowhere, always looking a little mad. Geordie, as mentioned before, barely moves, but, boy, does he look cool! Even without much movement on the stage (Coleman aside) there is something about Killing Joke that is overwhelmingly powerful and almost hypnotic. Tonight is no exception, it’s a faultless performance which is lapped up by the now full room of punters.
There are a few notable songs missing from the set, “Eighties”, “Complications”, “Follow the Leaders”, the latest track “Lord of Chaos”. Sure, these would all have been welcome additions but leaving them out has made space for some of the lesser known songs. Jaz says how tough this tour has been and it is clear that his voice is on its last legs by the end of the evening.
Thankfully, he’s made it to the final part of the gig without issue, certainly there are no obvious problems with his energy levels! He also mentions how he almost died in Mexico and gives thanks to Dave the roadie for “saving his life”. He also thanks the audience for sharing the experience this evening. It’s a fine end to a fine gig, looking at my previous reviews of Killing Joke I have remarked that they have been some of the best gigs of the year so far. Tonight is no exception.