Ink N Iron returned to the Queen Mary last weekend, three days of tattoos, motor sports, funny facial hair and and Betty Page-inspired fashion, and a fittingly rough-and-tumble music lineup. As usual, the main-stage headliners were split up according to themes, with Merle Haggard, Wanda Jackson and Junior Brown commanding Friday’s country night, and Sunday given over to Suicidal Tendencies, Madball and Sick of It All, in what looked to be great opportunity for anyone needing a freshly split lip to go with their new tattoo.
Saturday’s lineup was more of an old-school punk exhibition, featuring British 1976 originals the Damned and the Buzzcocks, along with Fear, of just slightly later vintage in Los Angeles. We arrived at sunset, sad to have missed the Skatalites and the Detroit Cobras, but in time to catch Fear romping through “We Destroy The Family” followed by every one of their best known songs and a cover of the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.” The band is down to singer/ guitarist Lee Ving for original members, as has been the case for decades, but this current lineup looks and sounds exactly like you would expect a current lineup of Fear to look and sound. They still say funny and obnoxious things between songs, though they’re not quite as scabrous as the band you remember from The Decline of Western Civilization. They still deliver screeds like “New York’s Alright” and “Beef Bologna” with pointed humor and high drama. And importantly, they’re slightly better musicians than most bands of the period.
Fear inspired genuine outrage when their shtick was new, but here were punker parents in leather jackets with little mohawked kids dancing together to “Let’s Have A War” on the fringes of the crowd like it was Paul McCartney breaking into “Ob La Di Ob La Da”. So much for planned destruction of the family. There was a pit going in the middle of the crowd, but for the most part it resembled a nice evening at the carnival, with more tattoos and cleavage on display than usual.
(Photo gallery and full review after the jump.)
It was toward the end of the Damned’s set – a fiery, fast-paced collection of songs spanning their career – that things in the crowd took a turn for the worse. The audience at the edge of the stage had been fairly mellow up to that point, so I moved further toward the middle, only to find a fight was about to break out exactly where I was standing. In a second the crowd shifted like the parting of the Red Sea and I was swept out with the tide of humanity. At one point I was deposited right in between the two aggressors, like I had been appointed referee. Somehow I managed to avoid being part of the Tasmanian Devil-like mass of fists and boots that that proceeded to roll around the parking lot.
Returning to my spot, I found that the testo vibe had not ended with the fight, some bonehead had started trying to push my wife out of her spot on the railing. I stood directly behind her to act as human shield. Presented with a physical barrier between my wife and him, this asshole proceeded to pound on my shoulders until I gave him the look and he finally fucked off. Needless to say, this whole experience, and the internal dialogue of “Am I about to go to jail, or the hospital?,” dampened my enjoyment of songs I would normally have really enjoyed hearing. Fair play to the band, who I’ve seen pretty regularly over the last decade and sounded as good as I’ve ever heard them.
We were able to negotiate safe passage backstage and watched the Buzzcocks from a place of blessed safety. They needed to be really good to turn our night around, and they were. One nice thing about the Buzzcocks is, their songs are all pretty short, and they’re all somewhere between good and amazing, so in the course of an hour-long set, there’s always these stretches of sheer perfection.
Their post-reunion albums have all been pretty good, but I only recognized two songs in this set as coming from after the eighties, both sung by guitarist Steve Diggle. Diggle has become the band’s Pete Townshend, the one who leaps in the air and does guitar-God poses and duckwalks, while lead singer/ guitarist Pete Shelley is their John Entwistle, standing fairly still as he plays his parts with great precision. His voice has lost some of its effortless high end, but the audience is singing along with such conviction no one complains. Instrumentally, they are devastating.
They’re a wonderfully meaty live band, a lot tougher sounding than they ever were on record. Among the highlights of this show were Diggle’s “Sick City” and “Harmony In My Head”, the Howard Devoto-era tracks “Breakdown” and “Boredom”, and the 1-2 punches of “Fiction Romance” into “Nothing Left” and, for the last bit of the encore, “Orgasm Addict” into “Oh Shit.” It was magnificent rock and roll from a band that was clearly enjoying itself onstage, Diggle thanking us for being such a “great lot.” He was, evidently, not standing at stage left watching the Damned when he made the assessment, but, hopefully that means the audience he was watching out front was a lot friendlier than the one I’d been caught up in.
Review written by Bob Lee. Photos by Elise Thompson and John Glihooley,