Words + Photos by Greg Jacobs
I’m going to do my best not to make this a preachy review from a grumpy old man … But I’m making no promises.
Stiff Little Fingers have recently embarked on a tour celebrating the 40th anniversary of their first album INFLAMMABLE MATERIAL (released February 2, 1979). I probably didn’t have this record until 1980/1, so it’s my personal 39th anniversary with Inflammable Material (and as a huge fan of the band).
Tonight’s show reminded me of going to shows back in the early 1980’s. My friends and I would pile into the back of a pickup truck with “SUSPECTS” scrawled in black spray paint across the tailgate and head to the Cuckoo’s Nest. Going to shows back them was really a different experience. Sure, there was a lot of violence and the pit was a bit rougher than the “Happiest Pit On Earth” I observed this evening, but the music was different too. Each band you would see on a 5-band bill sounded different, different from anything you could hear on the radio, but also different from each other. That’s not always true now-a-days with cookie-cutter punk rock sprinkled with heavy metal leads and crunchy guitars (yes, I realize how old I’m sounding and I’m OK with it).
When The Avengers started their set tonight, I was brought right back to the bed of that pickup truck. They were GREAT. With original members Penelope Houston (vocals) and Greg Ingraham (guitar) leading the band through a great set that included my personal favorites “American In Me” and “We Are The One” and their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” The “newer” rhythm section of Hector Penalosa on bass (from the Zeros) and David Bach on drums fit in flawlessly. For a little history, the last Sex Pistols show (excluding their reunions) was January 14, 1978 at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco … The Avengers were the opening band that night.
Stiff Little Fingers played a very smart set. Let’s face it, they are on a tour celebrating the anniversary of their Inflammable Material LP and stated outright that they were going to play it in order (except “Closed Groove” which they “don’t much care for”) so ostensibly, everyone knew the set list before they arrived to the show. What was smart about it? They opened the show with 3 favorites back to back (Roots, Radicals, Rockers & Reggae and Nobodies Hero, Fade Away) which immediately hooked the crowd. Then they played some more recent songs like Jake’s tribute to Joe Strummer “Strummerville” followed by a new, unrecorded song called “16 Shots” which Jake wrote about the police shooting of Laquan McDonald in Chicago “16 shots, 9 in the back …” The band was already 11 songs into their set by the time the familiar opening to Suspect Device rang through the crowd and ignited, in the nicest way possible, the “Disney Pit.” As a long time fan, I loved hearing Jake talk in between songs and hearing the stories behind them … I thought it was especially funny that he called the song “Rough Trade” a hissy fit about being lied to by a record company. Their set ended, as the record does (except for Closed Groove) with Alternative Ulster … and, to top off a great set and a great night, their 2 song encore closed the night with Tin Soldiers and Gotta Get Away. The only way this night could have been better is if it was 40 years ago and I was jumping in the back of my friend’s pickup truck to go the next party instead of sitting in my gas-conscious mid-sized SUV taking me home to bed.
If you plan on seeing Stiff Little Fingers on this tour, be sure to get there early enough to see The Avengers. You can thank me later.