There’s only one Killing Joke, but it’s come in countless different incarnations. Although their formation was in the punk-obsessed Notting Hill of 1978, the quartet have dabbled in every rock subgenre under the sun, from proto-industrial noise all the way to lush, synth-powered prog. This evening, however, isn’t one for fans of the new wave melodicism of ‘Eighties’, nor the heavy metal attack of ‘The Death & Resurrection Show’.
Jaz Coleman’s ever-evolving, yet ever-political rebels are belatedly celebrating their first two albums turning 40, playing the pair in full, in a 350-capacity bar. It’s a warm-up for when they blast these riff-fuelled ragers amidst the glitz of the Royal Albert Hall this Sunday.
However, the intimacy of the 100 Club makes tonight feel even more special than what it’s gearing the band up for. Killing Joke are returning to their roots with their setlist, after all – and what could be a better backdrop for that than the kind of sweat-lined London basement they first made their name in?
Famously, this bunch are a band of disparate influences and subgenres, so it makes perfect sense, when they march onstage, that they have a varied aesthetic as well. While Jaz arrives with a wide-eyed intensity, clad in red face-paint and a black boiler suit, bassist Martin “Youth” Glover is all smiles in his denim jacket and light-up golf visor.
Guitarist Geordie Walker and drummer Paul Ferguson, on the other hand, are far more casual, simply taking their spots in what’s probably their street clothes. Touring keyboardist Roi Robertson, meanwhile – donning an aptly ‘80s, goth-rock haircut – elicits the first cheer from the crammed-in crowd, his mechanised notes marking the start of Killing Joke opener ‘Requiem’.
Immediately, the single reaffirms why this band are so damn special. Joining the keyboard riff are a sturdy hard rock guitar part, danceable drumming and, of course, Jaz’s melodious wailing. It’s emblematic of the style-smashing ways that made the band such a breath of fresh air in a barely post-punk Britain. No wonder they’d go on to inspire stars as far-apart as Nine Inch Nails and Metallica.
Even as 350 people go apeshit directly before him, Jaz stays in his quasi-dream state. While holding the mic to his chest and howling the hook, he never stops staring high above the crowd. His sole bit of banter with his audience is a poem he recites directly before ‘Wardance’: “World War III will not be a war between nations,” he barks. “It will be fought against populations.” London barely has time to mull the rhyme over before Geordie’s staccato chords kick in and all hell breaks loose.
The euphoria only grows as the evening continues. ‘The Wait’ unsurprisingly inspires a mass singalong to its two-word chorus, in-between the bouts of moshing broken out by that ahead-of-its-time metal riff. ‘Complications’ enjoys a similar but even more exaggerated response; so too does ‘The Fall of Because’, which marks the abrupt transition into the What’s This For…! material.
Reviews of that follow-up album continue to be mixed: for every one that declares it a refinement of the original Killing Joke sound, there’s another that lambasts it as too similar to the debut. News of that response clearly never made it to this crowd, though – or they simply don’t give a shit. ‘Unspeakable’, ‘Follow the Leaders’, ‘Madness’ and ‘Who Told You How?’ are deep cuts in the grander scheme of Jaz and co.’s stacked back-catalogue, but they’re received like world-conquering hits down here.
By the end of an encore of B-sides (none of which are newer than 1981), the evening has felt like a time machine in every sense. From the songs to the reliably out-there way they’re played – and with this seedy venue sealing the ambience – Killing Joke have rediscovered their most dangerous days. How this wackiness translates to the Albert Hall remains to be seen but, right now, 350 people are in 1981 and they’re fucking thrilled about it.
Killing Joke play at the Royal Albert Hall on 12 March.