Although the Blank Club is tucked away on a side street in San Jose, Calif., a city not exactly known for its thriving music scene, the tiny club has remarkably been able to continue a campaign of featuring younger acts while simultaneously providing older legends a venue for their respective legacies. On March 14, two legends from the earliest days of punk, Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols and Hugh Cornwell of the Stranglers, split the stage and backing band, focusing equally on their past and current projects.
Matlock, a man that was so punk that he was kicked out of the Sex Pistols, opened the show with a heavy strike to his guitar, and immediately erupted into a set of proto-punk, hard rock tunes. Matlock covered the entirety of his career, playing covers from his earliest day as a musician, to a few tunes off his work with Iggy Pop, to the latest songs that he's been working on. And yes, he did write the music to "God Save the Queen" and "Pretty Vacant" and both those songs were put in rotation, although Matlock seemingly made it a point not to make a big deal out the fact that he was playing those songs, although he didn't seem to hide from their importance either.
Throughout the set, it became apparent how unique Matlock's guitar sounds. Like the earliest rockers, it's rooted in the timing and tone of early blues, but also seems to take a page from the Stooges, and has a thick, grimy, but energetic low end. Most interestingly, the songs and tones didn't seem to reflect the modern concept of punk in either its current thrashing hardcore or laid back countrified incarnations, but rather seemed to echo more mid '70s New York blues punk or just plain old hard rock. Notably, though, the band closed its set with a cover of the Sex Pistols' version of Davy Jones' "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone," with a brief acceleration near the end that just might, maybe, possibly could have been a nod to Minor Threat's own take on the classic.
In a function of economy and continuity, both Matlock and Cornwell used the same backing band of punk and proto-punk innovators. Blondie's Clem Burke handled the drums, and between his agile snapping and brutish thud, made the connection between jazz drumming and early punk apparent, something, unfortunately, rarely seen anymore. James Stevenson, guitarist for Generation X/Gene Loves Jezebel/The Alarm, supported Matlock, also exhibiting a near-forgotten art form, in this case, a merging of punk nastiness with more traditional, almost AM radio-influenced balladry. Steve Lawrence, who has been Cornwell's live bassist for some time, kept the bottom end thick and heavy, but as with the Stranglers' best songs, energetic, if not somewhat ogrish.
After a short interlude, Stevenson left the stage and Cornwell replaced him with his own guitar, still backed by Burke and Lawrence. While it took about three songs for Cornwell's voice to warm up, once he did, he assumed the thick baritone that made early Stranglers classics so classic. Similar to Matlock, Cornwell split his songs equally between is solo works and the proto-syth punk of Stranglers biggest hits.
Interestingly, while the Stranglers have usually existed as a four-piece with a keyboard, Cornwell's band featured just a bass and drums backing his own guitar. To compensate for the lack of electronics, the band increased the muscle of its instruments and created Stranglers tunes that were broader, fiercer and rawer than their studio counterparts.
Leaving little space between each song, Cornwell flipped through his catalog, jumping from his earliest works to some unreleased new material scheduled to be on his next album. As is common with many veteran punk and proto-punk artists, the new material retains a spacey, post-punk edge, moves along at mid tempo, but has a thick chassis to give the abstract words some extra heft.
As Cornwell went through his set, it became surprisingly evident that the Stranglers were ahead of their time. When the band played "No More Heroes," the nihilistic lyrics could have easily fit on a Sex Pistols platter while the metallic, floating clang could have sit on a Gang of Four B-side, despite that the song came out in 1976. "Golden Brown" featured a throbbing bass highlighted by delicate, baroque guitar lines that foreshadowed goth's artiness, even though it first was released in 1981.
Although the crowd was small, numbering no more than 50, it seemed that the audience was as thrilled by just seeing the older legends as it was at hearing both vintage and newer music. Still, it was somewhat of shame that two artists who have influenced punk, and most music, beyond measure had such a small turnout. Who knew that "No More Heroes" would be so prophetic?
-If you're into Stranglers/Cornwell, be sure to check out the merch table--he has a lot of really neat tour only live items
-Both Matlock and Cornwell are surprisingly short. However, in the tour poster, well looks somewhat chubby. Strangely, he in real life, he is rather thin.
-I know, you're totally like "Who are these blokes the Stranglers?!!!!" So was I until two weeks ago! Check this out for a quick lesson.