Review: Buzzcocks still rock at the Belly Up

Layla Marino

n_review_2014_webIf the Buzzcocks show at the Belly Up in Solana Beach on Sept. 19 is anything to go by, punk rock is most certainly not dead. There is also, often, a worry with older bands on reunion tours as to whether they can still perform, whether they still have “it.” No worries with the Buzzcocks, however, as they more than brought the house down at the Belly Up in their first tour in more than eight years.

For those not in the know, the Buzzcocks are a legendary British punk band, which formed in 1976 in Bolton near Manchester. In their heyday, the band was on par with the Sex Pistols and The Clash, forming right around the same time as the other two punk mainstays. The Buzzcocks were known for being a bit kinder and gentler than the Sex Pistols, however, and their style, while no less punk, was a little more melodic than the average punk band in the burgeoning mid-’70s scene.

Their most popular song, 1978’s “Ever Fallen in Love,” exemplifies their trademark style with a memorable guitar hook in a minor key and a complicated, syncopated chorus that went against the grain of the sound that typified the punk scene at the time. Other hits such as “What Do I Get” and “Sixteen” defined the band in the 1970s, and many British and U.S. punk and indie artists now credit the band being a major influence in their music. The Buzzcocks are so influential in England, in fact, that a popular anarchic quiz show includes their name: “Never Mind the Buzzcocks.”

Spanning their almost 40-year history, the Buzzcocks have remained relatively active, with nine studio albums in all. This is not to say the band hasn’t broken up and reformed a few times, with the longest hiatus between 1982 and 1989 when founding member Howard Devoto left the band for good. Since then, there has been a revolving carousel of drummers and bassists, but the Buzzcocks have always retained two of their original vocal/guitarists, Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle, and continued to put out albums and tour. The current tour brought them to the Belly Up in support of their most recent album, “The Way,” which will be out in early November.

The Buzzcocks have had limited dates in the U.S., and they’re already back in the U.K., so San Diego was lucky to have them, and what better venue than the Belly Up? The Belly Up is really the only intimate venue other than The Casbah in San Diego County that can handle the hard punk guitars and smashing drums of punk royalty such as the Buzzcocks. The venue and the band did not disappoint.

The Buzzcocks perform Sept. 19 at the Belly Up in Solana Beach. (Photo by Layla Marino)
The Buzzcocks perform Sept. 19 at the Belly Up in Solana Beach. (Photo by Layla Marino)

The Buzzcocks played for almost two hours after the opening band, The Executives, warmed up the crowd. They played a wide range of tracks from their discography, not skimping on the classics. But they were also not afraid to play tracks from more recent albums, including a heavy dose of songs from “The Way.” The crowd was a great cross-section of older folk who remember the original punk scene, GenXers who came to pay homage to the band who gave the ’80s and ’90s indie scene its sound, and, surprisingly, a new generation of young punks, eager to show off their ripped black jeans and safety-pin earrings.

Everyone in the crowd was dancing and cheering, pogoing and singing along to most of the songs, so it was clearly a crowd of connoisseurs. Even if the crowd hadn’t done its research, however, the high-energy punk vibe of the Buzzcocks quickly took over the Belly Up, and there was not an occupied seat by the third song as everyone crowded around the stage, swept up in punk.

Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle both did amazing guitar work, and shared both vocals and solos seamlessly – it’s almost as if they’d been working together for 40 years (which of course they have). Diggle was extremely animated and jumped along with the crowd, pulling some real rock-and-roll moves with his solos, and Shelley’s vocals were bell-clear even after so many years in the business.

Bassist Chris Remmington and drummer Danny Farrant, who’ve been with the band since 2008, kept pace with the punk gods and didn’t miss a beat, with Farrant providing perfect timing to the complicated change-ups and syncopation that give the Buzzcocks their signature sound.

When the encore brought on three Buzzcocks classics, including “Ever Fallen in Love,” the floor shook with the excitement of the crowd as Diggle aimed a mic at the crowd for them to sing along. When the band finished, they took time to shake hands, sign autographs and pose for pictures and then, in true punk rock style, Diggle made sure all the dials were turned up on the guitar amps and the band left their guitars on loud facing the amps to leave the stage with a loud feedback flourish. There would be many a Buzzcocks fan complaining about tinnitus for a few days after the show, but it was definitely worth it.

The worry that the Buzzcocks may be a little rusty dissipated in the opening chords of the show at the Belly Up. In fact, they’ve toured almost every year since 2003, so they are far from rusty and seem to just be getting better.

The performance was clean, high-energy, fun and full of what was clearly the Buzzcocks love for what they do. What they do is punk rock, and they do it better than any modern band you can name. They rocked the Belly Up on Sept. 19, and here’s hoping they’ll be back very soon. In the meantime, check the Buzzcocks’ site for their album release date and a free stream of the first single off “The Way,” called “It’s Not You.”

Go to www.buzzcocks.com and check the North Coast Current’s guide to the best concerts at the Belly Up and more in Cool on the Coast.

Layla Marino is a San Diego music and arts writer