Royal Albert Hall, London – Sunday 12th March 2023
KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – Friday 10th March 2023
Review: Nigel Wallbank
Featured Photo: Sara Louise Bowrey
There is no other band quite like Killing Joke.
Born out of ritual and fire in 1979 they continue their journey through the ages.
Our journey to the RAH began 2 days before with a trip to Wolverhampton to witness the final warm up gig. The venue was small and intimate. The set list consisted of the first two albums – the eponymous debut followed by What’s THIS For? – back-to-back in strict album order.
The synth pulse of Requiem and the abrasive beat of Wardance kicked it all off. These songs are still as relevant as they were back in 1980. The brutal instrumental beat of Bloodsports was relentless. My two favourites from this album are Complications and Primitive and they were at their brutal best.
It wasn’t long before we were into What’s THIS For? The Fall of Because starts it all off with Big Paul Ferguson’s brutal tribal drumming and Youth creating his authentic sound from this era through the beloved fretless Fender bass. His bass that night was so loud it literally got inside your head.
The highlight from this album has always been Unspeakable for me and it was at its best tonight. The night closes with an encore of early singles/B sides.
The band were in fine form. It was a great prelude to what was to come.
Fast forward to Sunday night and the vast temple that is the Royal Albert Hall. The faithful are gathering for a dose of catharsis through those first two albums back to back. The energy levels were reaching critical.
It’s maybe a little strange to see KJ in these grand surroundings, but you have to realise that their power appeals to many generations now.
We meet friends old and new, many who have travelled U.K. wide and from across the globe to witness this spectacle. The Gathering is a worldwide network of loyal fans, a family and the the gig is as much about meeting others as it is seeing the band . No other band has a following like Killing Joke. The Gatherers are a support network for each other, a university of knowledge. A Gathering is like seeing close family you haven’t seen for a while, a chance to celebrate and maybe reminisce about days past.
The crew prepare the stage. Diamond Dave, Damon Head and the other faithful servants look dwarfed by huge venue. Dave is a Joke fan transformed into Geordie’s ever present technician. An integral part of the Gathering, Dave can always be seen distributing setlists and other souvenirs to the faithful at the end of the gigs. Damon has grown up with the band and is now tour manager.
A leather jacket with Killing Joke artwork painted on the back is handed to Diamond Dave to place at the side of the stage. The jacket belonged to Mik Raven who sadly passed last year after a battle with cancer. Once a Gatherer, always a Gatherer.
As the Eyes Wide Shut intro music came on, the full scale of the venue became apparent. The synth riff to Requiem blasted out. The band look at home here, filling this temple with their incomparable sonic fire. The accompanying visual fire is courtesy of Michael Coles’ subversive visual wizardry, tonight projected onto a large screen at the rear of the stage. Feast your eyes on the stark images of riots, war and aliens. Mike and his work are peerless.
This is going to be a truly magical experience.
Requiem pulses out again and Wardance is positively nuclear. The first album set was just perfect. The highlight for me was the brutal rhythm of Primitive, but everything was a highlight to be truthful.
We move into What’s THIS For? and The Fall of Because is again a sonic attack. Big Paul’s tribal drums drive it along. Tension, Unspeakable, Butcher follow. Follow the Leaders seems as relevant today as it was back in 1981 with war and global pressure all around us. Madness followed and Who Told You How is a mixture of funk and driving guitars, an instrumental that has a haunting feel to it.
Exit is the final song of the set. Geordie, Youth and Big Paul hit the groove. Jaz, as ever the ringmaster, orchestrates the audience into clapping to the beat.
Then, that’s it .. the band leave the stage. They return after a few minutes and a blistering version of Are You Receiving? kicks off the encore It was the first song they ever wrote together and it still sounds as good today as it did back then.
The punk/funk of Change follows, Geordie’s guitar sounding like a one man orchestra in the middle part. Turn to Red follows, a pioneering dub/punk fusion. Killing Joke have never played it by the rules. Then,Youth`s howling wolf call kicks us into the finale of Pssyche.
All too soon it’s ended. Youth, Jaz and Big Paul take their bows, and stand together in a show of unity. Geordie, maybe not one for the limelight walks off quietly. They have been together since they were teenagers, and now in their 60s they show the brotherhood that has always been present.
Killing Joke’s alchemy of dub bass, snarling guitar, tribal drums and, of course, Jaz’s fierce vocals and spellbinding presence, made it a truly amazing spectacle. They have always stood head and shoulders above the rest of the post-punk crowd. No one else has the Magick that they possess. It is a unique combination.
They have been a part of my life for so long and have shaped my thinking in so many ways. My wife and I have travelled widely to see them and we have met so many amazing people. Long may it continue.