Since reforming in 1989, the Buzzcocks have fared better than most groups from punk’s class of ’76 that have dared to keep going. Original vocalists/guitarists Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle, with late additions Phil Barker (drums) and Tony Barber (bass), have toured frequently and released four albums since 1993, finally striking gold in the studio with their eponymous 2003 album on Merge. Buzzcocks found the band getting in touch with its angry side and rediscovering its hard-rocking past. It even included an updated version of “Lester Sands”, a fierce tune dating from the band’s earliest days (with original singer Howard Devoto) but never “officially” recorded and released.
By all accounts, the tour in support of the self-titled album was just as energetic (this critic can personally vouch for the show at Chicago’s Metro). Riding a wave of critical success and with a new album scheduled for spring, it’s easy to see why the Buzzcocks would choose this moment to release a live DVD. Recorded at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire on 27 April 2003, the DVD captures a gig from an early leg of the tour and features a 32-song set drawing largely from the Buzzcocks’ classics of the late ’70s and early ’80s.
From the moment they take the stage, the Buzzcocks barely pause to catch their breath between songs, let alone make time for banter. It’s a full-on assault of punk-pop classics, from love-struck ditties like “I Don’t Mind” and “What Do I Get?” to angst anthems like “Autonomy” and “Why She’s a Girl from the Chainstore”. The handful of songs from their latest album, including Shelley’s single “Jerk” and Steve Diggle’s hard-rocking “Wake Up Call”, is well-chosen and blends right in with the vintage material. This is a high-energy, low-frills show, and the presentation is just as direct, with simple, unobtrusive camera work and no crowd shots.
If there is anything to complain about, it’s that a show from a later stop on the tour, when the band was a bit more polished, wasn’t filmed instead. There are a few distracting glitches, such as a few off-key vocals, a moment of confusion when the band members’ set lists differ and they begin playing different songs, and Diggle’s absence at the start of the first encore (“He got lost!” Shelley jokes). All in all, though, it’s a winning performance from a high point in the band’s career.
Extras include a band biography, behind-the-scenes material from the Australian leg of the tour, a Shelley/Diggle interview, sound check footage, and poster and photo galleries. A couple of these extras will prove cringe-inducing for diehard fans: A ditzy Australian TV presenter can’t get the band members’ names straight (after many takes, it’s decided they should just introduce themselves), and a line of the bio states that Diggle started the band Magazine after the Buzzcocks’ breakup (it was Devoto, and the bands were around at the same time).
Like Rodney Dangerfield, the Buzzcocks get no respect, but they still maintain an admirably affable stance toward the world. In the interview, Shelley makes a convincing argument that punk’s great achievement was to make young people into creators instead of just consumers, and that it’s not just “special people” who make art. Shelley and Diggle themselves prove this point, portraying themselves as regular blokes who enjoy a night at the pub while making some of the finest music around.