Killing Joke At The Fonda Theatre

  • Killing Joke
    Photo: The Recording Academy
  • Killing Joke
    Photo: The Recording Academy

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By Jamie Harvey
Los Angeles

It was Cinco de Mayo and perhaps the last place I expected to find myself was somewhere dancing to a British post-punk band. But when a band who has influenced many of the bands you listen to is in town, you go, no matter what the holiday.

After opening band Czar performed to the growing crowd at the Fonda Theatre on May 5, and after I experienced hair envy due to the death rockers with teased-out Mohawks who filled in around me, the lights dimmed and Jocelyn Pook's eerie "Masked Ball" set the tone before the curtains opened. 

It's hard for me to describe Killing Joke to people. Their music has meandered from synth rock to punk to industrial metal. But the thread between them all is the gravely iconic voice of Jaz Coleman. This tour marks Killing Joke's 35th anniversary (and the band had us sing "Happy Birthday" to help to commemorate it), thus the set list dove into every corner of their career. Beginning with their 1980 self-titled debut album, "Requiem" and then "Wardance," the distorted guitar and forceful words exemplified the way Killing Joke have carefully balanced the hard and soft dynamics.

It's impossible for me to hear "Eighties," from 1985's Night Time, without imagining a young Kurt Cobain listening to the album, and later having that riff spring from his musical memory into "Come As You Are." My first experience with Killing Joke was listening to their 2003 self-titled, and most metal, album, which features GRAMMY winner Dave Grohl on drums. The album marked a transition in the band's sound in a direction many bands don't take — from softer to heavier. Coleman introduced "Asteroid" (a song featured on Killing Joke)  as being for "the earthquake generation" and as the frenetic vocal filled the room, I stopped dancing and raised my fist. 

Killing Joke's dichotomy between soft and hard was best represented in the encore, when the band returned to perform 1985's "Love Like Blood," which was dedicated to original bassist Paul Raven, who passed away in 2007.

"There's not an hour that goes by that I don't think of him," Coleman said. This put a somber tone on what I generally think of as a prototypical song for a love scene in an '80s film. Coleman's vocals are softened on the recording, but expose his rougher edge when performed live.

"The Death And Resurrection Show," with its powerful and hypnotic lyrics, transitioned us back into their metal era as the trudging riff carried us through to the show's end. "Souls are recycled in the death and resurrection show," Coleman sang. 

The final song of the night, "Pssyche," was introduced as the first song the band ever wrote together. It was the perfect way to end the show; a loop where the end is the beginning.

Set List:
"Requiem"
"Turn To Red"
"Wardance"
"Bloodsport"
"The Beautiful Dead"
"Empire Song"
"Chop-Chop"
"Eighties"
"Money Is Not Our God"
"Whiteout"
"Asteroid"
"Corporate Elect"
"The Wait"
"Pandemonium"

Encore:
"Love Like Blood"
"The Death and Resurrection Show"
"Pssyche"

To catch Killing Joke in a city near you, click here.

(Jamie Harvey lives in Los Angeles and is the rock community blogger for GRAMMY.com. She has attended and written about more than 500 shows since 2007. You can follow her musical adventures at www.hardrockchick.com.)

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