Live Review: Killing Joke @ Rock City

80’s industrial rock powerhouse Killing Joke brought their agitative brand of metal to Rock City as part of their 'Honour the Fire' tour that takes the band as far as Krakow, before capping off with a set at Derbyshire’s famed Bloodstock Festival. James Peutherer reviews.

I first became aware of Killing Joke through an enamoured love for Nirvana who were influenced heavily by Killing Joke’s hit Eighties in their writing for one of the bands most celebrated songs Come as You Are. The links between the two bands don’t stop there. While drummerless and prepping for their first album release in seven years, Killing Joke called on Dave Grohl to fill the shoes of Paul Ferguson, Grohl himself having covered Requiem with Foo Fighters as the B-side to Everlong in 1997. In a week that saw the loss of Taylor Hawkins, one of Rock’s all-time greats and a man who will be dearly missed by so many throughout the world, it feels appropriate to spend an evening with a band that contributed so musically to the members of the Foo Fighters.

Whilst most of the gig’s attendants may have settled comfortably into middle age, the floor of Rock City is still a snapshot of punk subculture with leather jackets and Doc Marten’s donned aplenty. It becomes abundantly clear from the get-go that Killing Joke have amassed a cult-like following since their formation in 1979. If any members of the crowd aren’t a perfect picture of London during that time frame, it's only because they’re proudly clad in shirts proclaiming the band’s name along with their hammer and sickle emblem. Support comes in the form of the Imbeciles who, with their brand of vicious yet melodic rock anthems, set the tone nicely before Killing Joke emerge to the stage at 9pm to take things a step darker and heavier.

The onstage backdrop takes the form of a single lit candle accompanied by ominous gothic chanting signalling the arrival of the band’s members – celebrated lead singer Jaz Coleman, who appears with his signature long black hair and eye liner, guitarist Geordie Walker garbed in his signature army beret and wielding his hollow-bodied 1952 Gibson- ES-295, since reunited drummer Paul Ferguson equipped with a microphone ready for his contribution to backing vocals, and bassist Youth with all the swagger of a man fourty years his younger. The band are also accompanied as they have been since 2016 by touring keyboardist Roi Robertson, who blends into the background providing additional layers to the band’s sound when needed.

''Not since Muse’s 'Simulation Theory' tour have I witnessed noise quite like this''

As the band play out the opening notes of Love Like Blood it becomes instantly clear that it’s going to be loud…seriously loud. Paul Ferguson’s kick drum pulsates straight through your entire body from the word go while the roar of Geordie Walker’s metal flavoured tones bounces straight off the Rock City walls and infects the crowd into life. Not since Muse’s 'Simulation Theory' tour have I witnessed noise quite like this and in this moment I find it appropriate to note down that it is probably the loudest gig I have ever been to. The band build off of the momentum of their opening number straight into Wardance. My company for the night, Matt, and I simply share a subtle nod of approval and stand on awestruck as the band play the track out with the accompaniment of the Rock City floor screaming the infectiously angry hook ‘Wardance’ at every given opportunity.

I’ve attended my fair share of punk gigs in my time however this is different - it’s more enraged, its more indignant, the fury is more furious - the punk-metal fusion that the band deliver in this live setting is almost impossible not to be drawn in by. As the band settle into their set, the mix of tunes they deliver is eclectic - some are instant punky hard hitters such as The Fall of Because while others are a tad more experimental - tracks such as Primitive may take more listens to truly appreciate. The enthusiasm however in which Jaz Coleman’s performance delivers them certainly can’t be disparaged. It appears for hardcore fans of the band it is this enthusiasm that keeps them coming back for more.

''As the band settle into their set, the mix of tunes they deliver is eclectic''

Whilst the band’s performance itself goes by without a hitch and with regular words of gratitude from Coleman to the band’s loyal fanbase, the experience as a whole unfortunately isn’t without its issues. Subtle issues with the mixing in the venue make it difficult to make out much of Coleman’s lyrical delivery, the wall of sound approach that appears to have gone into the performance creates a brilliant punk environment however Coleman’s microphone appears to be mixed just a few bricks short of the rest of the band.

A fan of the group who appears taken aback at the appearance of two fresh faced university students is eager to know our thoughts on the performance - I remark that we’ve enjoyed it thoroughly whilst also sharing our criticism about the sound in the venue - he remarks the same and reassures us that this appears to be an issue more with the mixing in the venue itself than representative of the band of a whole. The sound issues aren't enough to put him off as he gleefully explains he is off to see the band in London for the third time on the tour - a personification of the experience I had of the band's fanbase as a whole.

Minor sound issues aside, we exit Rock City feeling satisfied. We have seen a group who 43 years on from their formation still have absolutely no problem with putting on a punk gig that many young bands could only stand and envy. The personal highlight of the night is the performance of Ferguson on the drums. It's more than basic punk drumming, it adds a kind of new wave groove that drummers such as Topper Headon delivered for the Clash while still existing wholly based in power. It becomes obvious after seeing Ferguson’s performance why a drummer of the calibre of Dave Grohl was brought in as his replacement, as it would be hard to argue that Ferguson isn’t comfortably in the same bracket as the Grohls and Headon’s of the world.

Killing Joke destroyed all potential worries I had about whether a band that’s been touring for 40 years could still deliver their act with the same energy. It's abundantly clear that they can; this isn’t a case of ageing rockstars phoning it in, this is a band who are still on top form.

James Peutherer


Edited by: Amrit Virdi

Featured image courtesy of James Peutherer. Permission to use granted to The Mic.

In-article videos courtesy of Killing Joke via YouTube.