About three weeks ago, I was lucky enough to see the Buzzcocks perform at St. Andrew's Hall in Detroit. Hipsters often spurn reunion shows, dismissing the bands as past-their-prime and greedy. But who ever said punk rockers can't have grey hair and beer bellies? Especially if they can still bring the noise.
And speaking of bringing the noise, I never realized that the Buzzcocks had a Public Enemy aesthetic. Let me explain, Pete Shelley--he with the aforementioned grey locks and paunch--sings most of the songs. You know his trebley voice from "What Do I Get?," "Ever Fallen In Love," et al. Doesn't do stage banter. For a first-wave punk, he's downright stoic. A couple feet to his right, though, is Steve Diggle, the band's hypeman, Flava Flav to Shelley's Chuck D. Diggle does the pogo, taunts the crowd like a middle-aged Sid Vicious, encourages dancing, and sings the band's more anti-authoritarian numbers, like "Autonomy."
The band played its first two albums sequentially. This has become a fad, especially at summer festivals. A band will come out and play its canonical record in its entirety (think: Sonic Youth doing Daydream Nation or the Pixies doing Doolittle). Even Springsteen did this recently, so it's a movement that goes beyond just punk and indie types. Strange move for the Buzzcocks, though, who I always think of as one of thee quintessential "singles" bands. In fact, Singles Going Steady, the band's compilation of its first eight, late-70s A- and B-sides, is its must-own, no filler record, hands down.
But it worked. They flew through those records too. The crowd never stopped dancing on that rainy Detroit night. A lot of 30- and 40-somethings, of course, and a lot of mohawks, but I was happy to see a good number of kids who knew all the words to "I Don't Mind" and "Love You More." They played the two albums with much energy and then left the stage, most of the familiar hits yet unperformed. They encored, and did all the big numbers, and it somehow didn't feel obligatory. Actually, it was a perfect cap to a really good show, a rousing, sing-along of a finish, with their signature "Orgasm Addict" closing the set. You knew this was the band that pretty much invented the notion of pop-punk, and if you were a glass half-empty person, you walked out blaming them for all the shitty bands they inspired. But most of us left smiling, happy for all the two-minute masterpieces the Buzzcocks gave to the world of rock and roll.