Punk rock from Belfast! Stiff Little Fingers killed it last night at the El Rey, a gorgeous venue in the mid-Wilshire district in L.A.
Going in, I was thinking about the songs of theirs I grew up listening to like Gotta Get Away, Law & Order, Barbed Wire Love and others, but the show was not at all about the ‘old days’ – it was about a seminal punk rock band that has been through it all and come out the other side with a new album an incredible range of songs that truly transcend their basic three-chord structure. The hooks and tags just keep coming, and each song captures an emotional wave that’s wrapped inside an onslaught of clever, meaningful lyrics. Damn they’re good!
They formed in 1977 in Belfast, and wrote political songs about the violent conflict of ‘The Troubles‘ in Northern Ireland, mixing punk and reggae after hearing The Clash. In fact, they played a song that Jake Burns wrote for Joe Strummer which ended with the whole audience chanting, “Clash City Rockers!” The current SLF line-up is Jake Burns on lead vocals and guitar, Ali McCordie on bass, Ian McMallun on guitar and Steve Grantley on drums.
One of the highlights was a song from their new record, No Going Back, called My Dark Places. Jake Burns introduced the song by announcing that he just came out of a long battle with depression and that he has huge sympathy for anyone going through it. Then he added that no one should listen to “that dickhead Gene Simmons” on the subject. Huge applause for that. Bam!
Another fave moment for me was Nobody’s Hero, which I loved back then as a Fuck you I’m gonna be who I am anthem (sorely needed as the only punk rocker in middle school), but which took on an entirely new meaning now that I’m making a kids’ album to teach kids to follow their instincts, called Be Who You Are. At the end of Nobody’s Hero when the band and audience were singing the final chant, “Be what you are, be what you are, be what you a-a-are,” I kind of welled up thinking how important that message is and how fucking happy I was to be inspired by this band in this moment.
Their version of The Specials’ It Doesn’t Make it Alright had the whole room dancing and Johnny Was was another killer punk/reggae winner. Really, they were all winners. They did two encores in classic we all know you’re not leaving now fashion and kicked everyone’s asses until the bitter end.
I also have to mention the SoCal power of General Principle who brought the hardcore out in everyone and clearly had the respect of everyone in the room. The band features Tommy Davis Monk from DFL on vocals, Greg Hetson (originally in the Circle Jerks and now in Bad Religion) on guitar, and skateboard legend Tony Alva on bass and former Suicidal Tendencies drummer Amery Smith on drums. Killer.
Check out Nobody’s Hero and tell me this isn’t the perfect childhood anthem: