Live Thoughts: Buzzcocks at Varsity Theater
Much like the largely full Varsity Theater, half the Buzzcocks on stage were grizzled veterans who were around when the band made their initial burst, and the other half were about half their age, but decidedly excited to be there. Mixing in their classic material with some jams off of their new The Way LP, the two original members of the Buzzcocks were joined by fill-in players at bass and drums for a spirited 75 minute set.
I originally thought the Varsity would be an off-putting site for their music, but it actually worked well. Their finely crafted pop music, drilled through a garage and proto-punk lens, sounded crisp and commanding underneath the strings of light. Pete Shelley was confident as he led the band and sang on most of the songs, but the real sight was the wildcat antics of Howard Devoto, who pranced, pointed and windmilled his way through the set with all eyes glued on him (Jon captured his classic showmanship brilliantly in many of his pictures). Kicking out of the gates with “Boredom” from their debut EP and ending 21 songs later with “What Do I Get,” the band was tight and energetic throughout. Even when they played new songs that almost no one had heard, they never let their foot off the pedal. But they know what butters their bread, and their three song encore was blistering. Starting with an extended version of “Harmony in My Head,” the band “jammed” for the only point in their set, stretching out the three minute song with breakdowns and guitar solos. They built tension and let it release in glorious fashion, following the song quickly with a 1-2 punch of “Ever Fallen in Love (with someone you shouldn’t’ve)” & “Orgasm Addict,” finishing the show with two fast-paced, fist-pumping sing alongs.
Nostalgia acts can be dangerous, and I’d be lying if I said I’d go see the Buzzcocks if they weren’t playing their “hits,” but this show didn’t feel like a benign walk through a museum. The boys still have the chops and energy, and their songs are timeless. They may be a bit longer in the tooth, but the band don’t seem to have a lost a step, even if the audience shouting back at them are a bit older and the venues are a bit more fancy.