MiG Music 2021
Incorrigible Belfast foursome bring their tuneful and inflammable guile ‘n’ bile to the fellow punks of Deutschland – as captured at the two ends of the ’80s in aural and video form.
Charts-scaling if fiercely independent, nihilistic if sympathetic, often parochial and focused on the Troubles’ issues if possessed of international allure, SLF were on top of their game in 1981 and able to restore their success in 1989, when these two shows got caught on tape to preserve the quartet’s appeal for posterity. As far as punk charm goes, not a lot of the group’s peers could match them in terms of memorable melodies, sartorial style and playing prowess – and here’s the proof: one DVD and two CDs presenting the band in their prime period. It’s a precious document of the artistic vision that’s irresistible today, four decades down the line.
Visual content and one of the audio discs find the team in Dortmund, in the year of their second album’s release, of which they play no less than seven out of ten songs, on a bill with THE JAM, arguably their sole competitors in all the aforementioned aspects and a home for one of their future compadres, and the fact that the lesser celebrated collective can hold their own for an hour speaks volumes of the Northern Irish ensemble’s creative stamina. Expectancy whipping the crowd into a frenzy even prior to the performance per se, they live up to the excitement by beginning the concert with the sweetly fervent delivery of “Nobody’s Hero” and letting singer Jake Burns’ static stand contrast bassist Ali McMordie and guitarist Henry Cluney’s frantic runs, while drummer Jim Reilly is so self-focused as to anchor the entire pandemonium. All the hell breaks loose, after ritualistic tuning up between numbers, when “Barbed Wire Love” has added fuel to the flame, as the black-clad frontline trio in turns jump and sway to their spiked up pop with a ballad-like bridge to connect furious riffs and soft tissue, before the folk motifs and ska lace of “Wait & See” provoke a heated pogo from the “Union Jack”-waving punters – a perfect illustration to the infectious “Fly The Flag” – and “Gotta Gettaway” engages the audience in call-and-response.
But, of course, it’s the aggressive groove and funereal figures of “Johnny Was” that pack the most powerful, epic punch, as Cluney’s robotic moves and Burns’ reggae-tinged sloganeering and a soaring six-string solo produce a fantastic effect – much more profound live than in a studio version or Bob Marley’s original, full of incendiary force and capable to incite a riot at home. Just as belligerent on “Alternative Ulster” and cartoonish on the short, unison-flaunting “No Change” that’s sung by Cluney, the quartet somewhat lose their sharpness on the rock ‘n’ roll of “At The Edge” only to unleash the angry, albeit arresting, “Wasted Life” on slightly fatigued fans. Some of most rabid attendees still find the strength to storm the stage during “Tin Soldiers” – yet one of the spectators shows a nazi salute, and Burns, known for his antifascist stance, stops the ensemble and the foursome don’t resume, or rather restart, playing the deliberately unhinged piece until the problem is addressed. Which is why the ire of rapid-fire encore of “Suspect Device” feels justified.
Fast forward to 1989’s Düsseldorf that the reformed frontline, reunited with their old skin-hitter Dolphin Taylor, visited to demonstrate the veterans’ determination to soldier on in a different era – and ended up doing six classics notched on their first Rockpalast gig, as well as three rarer singles – all contained on the second CD. Kicking off with “Alternative Ulster” and again leaving “Suspect Device” for finale, the band effectively prove they’re far from nostalgia circuit, the likes of “Gotta Getaway” getting the warmest of comeback welcomes, whereas the life-affirming “Silver Lining” and trad ditty “Wild Rover” don’t add much to the canon, except for merriment. Yet this is everything the aficionados require to have as good a time as the musicians do. And this package is everything the initiated and novices alike need to fall in love with SLF.