It’s always dicey seeing the heroes of the first age of punk play live. The era when they broke all the rules and played to small clubs is long gone. Those that have survived haven’t exactly aged well, and that goes double for the experience of seeing them perform. Seeing the Sex Pistols was okay, but it felt like what it was: another unnecessary reunion show. Mick Jones’ band, Carbon/Silicon, felt like a sad joke; the best thing about that show was the free apple I got from the venue.
So it was with some trepidation that I went to The Crazy Donkey in Farmingdale, New York last Saturday to see The Buzzcocks. It was easy to imagine the band phoning it in — or worse, trying their hardest but showing their age. I was sure I’d enjoy myself, but figured there was a good chance this would be a boring nostalgia cash-in.
I was wrong. That these guys can still rock so hard after all these years is some kind of punk rock miracle. You could see the thrill of performance on their faces, and to watch Steve Diggle jump around and really have fun with his guitar was downright inspirational.
It was an early show, doors at 6:30, so that the venue could switch from a punk hall to a mandatory-blow-out-and-fake-tan nightclub at 11. This was probably for the best considering the presence of the older demographic. Luckily for them, though, the night did turn out feeling like a trip backwards through time. The opening band, Long Island’s Kith and Kin, has been described as having the spirit of 2002, and they brought the punk ethos. Next up were The Dollyrots, who come from California with a Joni Mitchell cover from a Kohl’s commercial and a sound that could be straight off of the Empire Records Soundtrack (1995). With the DJs spinning ’80s Two Tone and post-punk between sets, the crowd was all set for the climax of the evening.
And, of course, the Buzzcocks didn’t disappoint. For a band whose catalog, while extremely catchy, can be a little mild, they rocked like their lives depended on it. To watch Pete Shelley sing like he’d just made up the words the day before was a revelation, and to see Diggle play with the crowd through his guitar was pure joy. The two of them, as the remaining semi-original members, had an obvious chemistry and an infectious sense of fun.
Perhaps the most inspiring thing about the evening was the audience. Young and old alike moshed to the hits, shouting along to many of them. To see high school kids and purple mohawked fashion punks alongside respectable-looking 50-somethings really made the night. The Buzzcocks put on an amazing show, but it was the crowd, despite their differences, who kept the music alive.