Killing Joke have always marched exclusively to the beat of their own drum, the veteran rockers pioneering their own sound that refuses to be pigeonholed but has influenced countless of those who followed. As the climax of this leg of their current Honour the Fire tour, a return to their London home was the ideal choice, a packed Hammersmith Apollo there to bow down before them.
Killing Joke – Brix Smith.
Hammersmith Odeon, 9 April 2022
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Photography: Eric Duvet
Before the headliners, there was no small matter of the Special Guest slot filled by Brix Smith, the former The Fall lynchpin bringing her delirious sounds. Along with her four-piece band, the blast of guitars filled the cavernous interior of the Apollo, a flash bomb to the senses that brought the defined sense of melody she introduced with The Fall along with some additional muscle.
In a vibrant six-song set, Smith and her band played with a fiery determination that was never short of honesty and grit but sprinkled throughout with a sense of magic and glitter. From the ode about the porn industry California Smile through to the shapeshifting Black Butterfly that transferred all the emotions of the global lockdown into one precise punch, here was something that resonated deeply with those present.
An ultra-spiky Totally Wired summed up the selection nicely, the connection between Smith and her audience still as strong as it ever was. As a promise for the treats to come on her forthcoming solo album, this was all mouthwateringly tasty. She came, she saw, she conquered.
This was the night for Killing Joke, with a triumphant homecoming that was celebrated as loudly as only they know how. With the very welcome reuniting of the original line-up in 2008, the band has since proven that they are an unstoppable force, their stock higher than ever. With age and supreme confidence, there is an unassailable quality to what they do, but this is tempered by the constant pushing of themselves, resting on laurels never an option.
It is with this in mind that they bloodymindedly opened the set with their biggest and best-known song, Love Like Blood, its euphoric strains and soaring chorus sending the crowd into a frenzy. The throbbing bass of Youth, the thunder of Paul Ferguson’s drums and Geordie Walker’s chiming guitar driving forward as Jaz Coleman fires out the lyrics, the cry to battle for the faithful.
The grinding fury of Wardance came as a mighty slap in the face, the relentless barrage continuing with a savage The Fall Of Because and the maniacal singing, driving riff and drums of I Am The Virus.
Killing Joke have always been a visceral live act. This fact is reflected in the stripped-down stage set with nothing but a simple black backdrop and a lighting rig. The truth is, such is the force of the music and performances that anything else would just be surplus to requirements. With the titanic forms of We Had Joy in all its jittery, stop/start glory and rolling punch of Primitive, who needs a stage filled with castles and a light show?
The spacey ska of Turn To Red showed part of the breadth of what the band can do, quashing any thoughts that their heady mix of Industrial Electronic Gothic Avant Garde Punk and Rock is their sole focus.
Whilst the pace was punishing, the band managing to squeeze in twenty songs during the evening, it was also precisely pinpointed. The rush of Mathematics Of Chaos and the city-destroying Total Invasion juxtaposed with the electronica of Requiem. A furious The Wait and the extended drama of Pssyche brought the main set to an end in rousing style.
There was a swift return for a four-song encore starting with the unnerving and twirling The Pandys Are Coming and featuring the funky Bloodsport and a massive, planet changing Pandemonium.
With the whole thing being recorded for posterity, it will be a show that will be cherished beyond those packed into the legendary venue and far into the future.
Always leaders in the field, Killing Joke keep pushing boundaries and remain one of the most iconic bands in rock history. That drum of theirs is still beating hard.