Killing Joke doesn’t have concerts, they hold Gatherings. Killing Joke listeners are not just fans, they’re Gatherers. And when the venerable British ex-pat post-punks take the stage, it’s serious business; as lead singer Jaz Coleman states early on in the live set documented on the new DVD XXV Gathering: The Band That Preys Together… Stays Together, “We have a lot of work to do tonight.”
One of the most punishing live bands ever, Killing Joke have been enjoying a bit of a rebirth in recent years, as their lauded 2003 comeback album marked a return to form after a long absence, their earlier albums, including the legendary 1980 eponymous debut, 1981’s excellent What’s THIS For…!, and 1994’s industrial-tinged effort Pandemonium reaching a new, younger audience. The band has always had a broad appeal, drawing interest from such disparate demographics as the art rock crowd, metal fans, punks, and industrial aficionados. The band might be confrontational, but the music is far more inclusive than exclusive, the blunt chords, churning bass, and primitive, tribal drumming a major unifying factor; everyone likes huge, massive, pulsating music. Populist to the core, Killing Joke are ferocious, not to mention extremely intense, both on record and live, but the sense of community between the band and the Gatherers, as clichéd as it seems, is what makes this old band so easy to like.
In celebration of the band’s 25th anniversary, the band played two nights at London’s renowned Shepherds Bush Empire in late February 2005, and captured the event on film for posterity, and the end result is a concert DVD that not only effectively captures what Coleman describes as the quintessential Killing Joke Gathering (“A primal ceremony of friends old and new”), but shows one and all that the band, led by Coleman, guitarist Geordie Walker, and bassist Paul Raven, have plenty of fuel in the tank, and are in it for the long haul, until the wheels fall off.
Over the course of a 90-minute set, the trio, along with keyboardist Nick Walker and new drummer Ben Calvert (whose muscular performance makes him an ideal replacement for hired hand Dave Grohl), tear through a veritable “greatest hits” set, spanning from 1979 to 2003, with strong emphasis on the band’s early-80s output. In fact, a whopping six songs from the Killing Joke debut are unleashed, each of the tracks proving to have aged very well, including such seminal titles as “The Wait”, “Wardance”, “Complications”, “Bloodsport”, and “Requiem”, the one highlight of the lot being a powerful rendition of the band’s own mission statement, “Primitive”. The crimson-faced madman Coleman might be the focal point, but it’s Walker who is the band’s most valuable asset, his nonchalant stage presence contrasting greatly with his distinctive, highly versatile lead guitar work, which is best exemplified on other ‘80s cuts as “Pssyche”, “The Pandys Are Coming”, and the very first Killing Joke song, “Are You Receiving?” Both Walker’s slicing chords and Coleman’s brutal eloquence come together perfectly on “Love Like Blood”, the band’s calling card, which has Walker letting loose those unmistakable notes, and Coleman spouting some of his very best lyrics, perfectly expressing the love between the bandmates and their followers: “Strength and beauty destined to decay/ So cut the rose in full bloom/ Till the fearless come and the act is done/ A love like blood, a love like blood.”
As much emphasis is put on the early stuff, latter-day material is not ignored, as three songs from Pandemonium are trundled out: the ominous death march of “Communion”, the furiously-paced ‘90s industrial “Whiteout”, and the more exotically-tinged “Pandemonium”. Of the two songs from the band’s 2003 album, “Asteroid” sticks out the most, and while it’s one of the more blunt songs in this deceptively evocative band’s catalog, it’s an obvious crowd-pleaser, not to mention a chance for Coleman to spout his own personal views on Christianity.
Produced by Montreal outfit Enliven Entertainment, who are best known for their work on Slipknot’s Disasterpieces DVD, XXV Gathering is very nicely shot, tastefully edited (with no jarring rapid cuts), and presented in an absolutely huge-sounding 5.1 surround mix. Extra features include a brief montage of live and backstage footage, and most notably, a highly entertaining half hour interview with the gregarious, smart, borderline psychotic Coleman, who touches on such diverse subjects as life as a British expatriate, who really killed Princess Diana and David Kelly, the violent side of Killing Joke, the “honor” of Japanese kamikaze pilots, his various stints as conductor in London, Prague, and Sydney (the man’s musical pedigree is astounding), and his own distinct visions of what the future will hold. Part carnival barker, part preacher, Coleman is never dull.
In the past year, Killing Joke joined (most bizarrely) Motley Crue on their UK tour (which Raven recently described as being, “a fucking joke”) and most importantly, have spent time in the studio pounding out yet another brutal inclusion to their esteemed discography. With Hosannas From the Basements of Hell arriving in March, Killing Joke show no signs of stopping, and nor should they; as this DVD proves, they still play rock music at its most primal better than anyone.