Stiff Little Fingers - Live in Chicago (Cover Artwork)

Stiff Little Fingers

Live in Chicago (2019)

live show

Hello again. Busy week this: Tiger Army Sunday, SLF Wednesday, Masked Intruder Saturday. Three gigs in a week. That’s a lot for an old timer like me. But on and on we go.

So, SLF at Bottom Lounge. Not one of my favorite venues I have to admit. Last time I was there to see Face to Face, my buddy’s car got broken into, so that’s not a good memory. Plus the place just isn’t one to elicit lots of atmosphere. A big, open spaced restaurant/bar in the front, opening into an equally big, drafty, open-space with a stage shoved in one end. It’s an odd one. But nevertheless, I was there early to see all the bands. A pint of milk stout and some texts to Tom Trauma and we are in.

Dummy is up first. One of those local bands that I know that I’ve seen before but can’t place where or when. They are a 3-piece that have been around since the mid 90s I believe, playing out and putting out albums sporadically. They were warmly greeted by the few that were there at 7.30. I was impressed. They were super tight and muscular as most 3-piece bands tend to be. There were no filler solos or wasted time. Every song was muscular and to the point. The bass almost took the lead in a lot fo the songs, with the guitar filling in as rhythm. That reminded me of The Stranglers actually. The drumming was solid. The bass player Mark also sings. Musically they are of the hard hitting, post punk lineage. Imagine the Gang of Four if they were bald fat guys from Chicago instead of art students from Leeds, and who were more punk instead of funk. There you go. They have been playing for 20 years and the experience shows. They were good.

Up next were The Avengers, the pride of San Francisco. If you don’t know The Avengers, well, I feel bad for you, and there’s a big hole in your punk rock knowledge. They formed in 1977 and actually opened for the Sex Pistols at their last ever gig (don’t count the reunions) in San Francisco at the Winterland Ballroom. They released a couple of singles, but didn’t put out a full length until the famous self titled “Pink” album in 1983 by which time they had long since broken up. They have reformed numerous times throughout the years, but they were a bucket-list band of mine so I jumped at this chance to see them. And they didn’t disappoint. Two members of the original band remain, Penelope Houston and guitarist Greg Ingraham. They were joined tonight by Hector Penalosa (Zeros) on bass and David Bach on drums. What a performance. It was all stuff from the pink album which is awesome because what an album that is. From Sex Pistols sounding punky chunky rippers like “Second to None” and “I believe in me”, to sing alongs like “Car Crash” and “Teenage Rebel”, to anthems like “We are the One” and “the American in Me”. And don’t say that punks aren’t good musicians because I’ve never seen a bass player play like Hector. They were tight as a fly’s arse. Penelope looked like she was having a blast which is always good to see. I pogoed and waved my fist and sweated away. It was ace. As a sidetone, this band never got the attention they deserve. Their influence was huge on the early CA scene, as is evidenced by a song like “Thin White Line”. X basically try and emulate that sound throughout their first album “Los Angeles”.

The headliners entered the stage to the instrumental track “Go For It” from their third album and proceeded to rip the place apart. the show was billed as the 40th anniversary of their first album “Inflammable Material” but this show was far more than just that. When most bands play an album set, they start wit that album and play a greatest hits set after. But SLF cleverly didn’t do that. they opened with a selection of cuts from their entire career and then went into Inflammable Material. Makes all these sense in the world really, because the band has to be warmed up to do the album justice. So they started with “Roots, Radical, Rockers and Reggae” fro the third album, and then went straight into “At the Edge”. Their entire catalog is brilliant so they could have pulled any song out of the hat and made it work really, but this just felt special somehow. “Wait & See”, “Nobody’s Hero”, “Safe as Houses”, and newer songs like “My Dark Places”, “Strummerville” and the brand new one “16 shots” about the police murder of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald. Jake was his usual friendly and loquacious self, introducing each song with a back story (“Safe as Houses” was originally written in a key too high for him to sing, “Dark Places” deals with his personal battle with depression, and “16 shots” is self evident really). So after what already felt like an entire set they started the Inflammable Material album. It’s an all time punk classic, so was greeted with the enthusiasm that it serves form the 600 in attendance. Again, Jake introduces and explains every song, which is a nice touch for songs we grew up with but might never have truly understood. “Suspect Device” blew the lid off the place as did “Barbed Wire Love”, “Law and Order” and “Alternative Ulster”. But My favorite might ahem even the Bob Marley cover “Johnny Was” which was amazingly powerful. Due to work issues I had to leave before the encore but I’m sure that was superb too.

The band played with a fire and intensity rarely seen in bands half their age. They play like their very lives depend on it, and that speaks to a crowd who will respond in kind. And Jake’s banter and clear affection for the people that have supported the band for 40 years is clear to see and is a big raise why people love them so much. The band is the same as the last few times that I’ve seen them. It is original members Jake Burns (Vocals/ guitar)and Ali McMordie (bass), joined by Ian McCallum (guitar since 1993) and Steve Grantley (drums since 1996). If you are on the fence about seeing a couple of old bands because you think they will just be going through the motions, do yourself a favor and go and see this tour because that couldn’t be further from the truth. You will not be disappointed I promise you.