Propagandhi – U.L.U., London

By paul

Sunday 19 April 2009
O2 Academy, Islington
Support: Random Hand + Chief + Anonymous Tip

20:45. Punktastic is huddled front row stage right amidst some beefy but rather perplexed looking security officers, a frontline trench of photographers and a solid wall of anticipation. That?s Punktastic plural! Tonight Alex (good cop) and Mike (bad cop) are both in attendance to check out Canadian agit-punks Propagandhi, a band that really does have true legendary status. What better way to mark the occasion than Punktastic?s very first tag-team review?*

[Alex] Flashback an hour and Mike?s A.W.O.L. (Actually he?s whetting his proverbial punk-rock palette at a ?spoons). I guess it?s up to me to open this review then. Well, whilst Mike?s not paying œ3.60 for an Academy-priced pint he is missing out on an impressive performance by an almost unbilled Anonymous Tip. The Twickenham quartet balances gritty punk-rock menace with moments of soulful reflection and a socio-political commentary that makes for a perfect warm up to tonight?s headliner. (3/5)

If ever a band deserves a better crowd reaction it has to be Chief. Unfortunately, and this unfortunately goes for all the support tonight, the band isn?t called Propagandhi and therefore the crowd couldn?t give two hoots. Their loss. In 30 minutes the band pumps out some bruising punk rock cum melodic hardcore. It?s fast, ferocious and lyrically thwacks every nail clearly on the head. Tracks from the essential ?Provocation of the Nation? still sound fresh and relevant, whilst a couple of new songs get a road testing. The new album can?t get here quick enough. (4)

Lurking suspiciously at the bar is a certain Mr Mike Scott. He?s finally made it into the venue, just in time to check out Random Hand attempt to crack the rabidly loyal Propagandhi throng with a set that?s not only heavy on recent album ?Inhale/Exhale? but heavy in general. The trademark ska numbers the band has in droves are slimmed down to make way for the likes of the beastly ?Roots in the Crowd? and ?Mass Producing Monsters?. The performance is sharp, well honed, but it?s hindered by the lack of crowd energy. This is a band that really thrives off that eyeball-to-eyeball mentality, but Islington doesn?t feel the same, at least for any band that doesn?t start with ?P? and end in ?ropagandhi?. Roll on May and a true unleashing of the beast. (3) Thought?s, Mike?

[Mike] Parked at the front left of the stage, we were surrounded by like minded people ? dozens of us desperate to go to the toilet, but so far away, through herds of tightly packed people, that we all let Random Hand keep our fragile minds distracted. They are so fucking tight these days that you wonder if they could play their whole set note perfect blindfolded, but that?s what constant touring does. They fly the flag for anti-image punk rock and seem notably humbled to be on the tour, which is always great to see. The songs don?t seem to transfer perfectly to the large, echo-ridden room ? hard-edged metallic skacore doesn?t always sound pristine, but there are moments of Capdown in the best points of the set from this lot tonight. They may not go the way of catchy hooks quite like the ?down ever did, but a more solid band you will not see this side of the Atlantic. (3.5)

All that before doesn?t seem to bother 75% of the crowd though. We all know why we are here tonight. Propagandhi. They have never quite been my favourite band, but I?m not sure that there is a more relevant punk rock band left in existence right now. And we?ve all waited a fucking long time for them to get their arses over here. So, it was baited breath all round in the venue. Well, they did not disappoint. Were they ever going to? Probably not. In fact, they played exactly as you?d expect. A set that was tinged with genius, but fairly frustrating at the same time.

It is the curse of great bands that their back catalogues are always too big to please everyone at any one show. Tonight, Propagandhi delved deep into the new album, ?Supporting Caste?, with half a dozen new tunes, met with cheers even from those who, like me, haven?t learnt the words yet. There is no doubt that songs like ?Dear Coaches Corner? and ?Human(e) Meat? are going to end up as classics in many a collection. This did mean the rest of the back catalogue was a little more lightly used, but they represented every era with a nice mix of energy and annoyed obligation. The tunes played from ?Less Talk More Rock? and ?How To Clean Everything? still sound as fresh as ever, and a surprise addition of ?Haille Selasse Up Your Ass? (Fuck Religion to most of us) was lovely to see. You can see they still love what they do, with Todd mouthing every word whilst shaking rib cages with a bass so overly loud that even Chris Hannah?s divine guitar was occasionally lost on our side of the room.

The banter was minimal ? these days the tunes do a better job of expressing the band than a lot of Chris? bitter outbursts and Todd?s barely audible jokes, but it was there. ?Thanks a lot for coming to watch a band of nearly 40 year old guys dressed as 14 year olds? was the understated utterance of gratitude, but these days they look sharper and more refined than ever. There were still some strange moments ? using up half the encore time for a sketchy but amusing Black Widow cover (you?d know the song if you heard it ? the rendition was complete with the singer, dressed as some kind of homoerotic elf), but this band are best at just playing the most intense music your older brother ever listened to. All that bothered me tonight was the tendency for almost perfectly copied renditions of the CD ? barely an extra 1000mph solo in sight. Still, I stand by the assertion that they are the most relevant band on this planet. (4) Alex had a less good view, being a foot shorter, but his take goes like this?

[Alex] Even from this low vantage point Kay Garrett?s inclusion in this set is bizarre. To laugh or to look on bemused? Such is the quandary of a crowded house. Anyway, Dennis Wheatley inspired pagan rock aside, Propagandhi knows how to play. I guess you don?t stick around for this long without knowing how to, but tonight that?s the first thing that comes across. Big guitars, pummelling drums, booming bass. The dial?s above 11 and nigh on everybody inside, a certain lanky Punktastic reviewer beside me included, is lapping this up. Every word, new and old, is hurled back at the band and a flurry of crowdsurfers nearly gives security a coronary. I probably throw the phrase hero-worship around too much, but this is exactly that.

Here?s the thing though. I didn?t grow up on Propagandhi so, despite rating ?Supporting Caste? as the second best album so far this year, I?m not blown away. Watching an impeccably organised band is never going to be a chore but whereas everyone else in attendance is waiting for their particular favourite song, I?m enjoying from a somewhat reserved standpoint. My fault for not getting into the band sooner, probably. For the record, ?Dear Coaches Corner? is an absolute barnstormer (the show could have ended on that to be honest) that epitomizes the heavy punk rock that the band has been making a living off of for the past 20+ years. ?Haille Seasse?? (wait, don?t you play this in your set, Mike? This sounds different though, less morose maybe) also stands out in that it offers a short reprieve from the onslaught whilst giving everyone in attendance a reason to shout ?Fuck!? a lot of times. Not Rage Against the Machine amounts but still.

It?s hard to criticize a band that gets it so right but I guess there?s always going to be that fan factor. Bands you know and love will blow you away (nearly) every time. Tonight that?s certainly the case for many, scratch that, most. For me: impressed, yes. Blown away, no. Would I make the trip again? Yes, but I think I?d want them to leave 70?s occult prog-rock at home next time. But then again? (3)

*Disclaimer: this may or may not actually be the very first Punktastic tag-team review.

Mike and Alex