Killing Joke’s world is dark and strangely beautiful

Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke at O2 Academy Leeds. Picture: Neil Chapman
Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke at O2 Academy Leeds. Picture: Neil Chapman
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Place a thousand band names on a very large piece of paper and draw lines of influence.

Without X there could be no Y, without Y there could be no Z, and so on. Trace the lines back, and where they converge, you’ll find where the buck stops, who had the idea first. Many will be in the 60s and 70s, of course, but some really special ones can be found in the creative wake of the punk era in the early 1980s.

These focal points are the seminal bands – The Smiths and Joy Divisions – bands who exist in their own worlds, bands who seemingly emerged as unique creations, with no discernible influences, who cast long shadows into the decades ahead.

Killing Joke is one such band.

“Cult” status doesn’t really cover it; to many of their fans, Killing Joke is more of a religion. This is largely due to the charisma and – even on the band’s 40th anniversary tour – the sustained manic energy of the band’s frontman and chief shaman Jaz Coleman.

There is a truly compelling theatre about Jaz. Boy, can he work a crowd. He’s lost in thought…he’s overwhelmed with ecstasy – he’s grimacing with some kind of internal conflict – he’s always in the moment, always riding a cascade of intensity – part preacher, part dictator, part hero, part evil genius. He draws you in. Coleman’s world is dark, often bonkers, yet it can be a strangely beautiful place.

The apocalypse is, of course, imminent. There’s magic, ritual, ley lines, Crowley – and enough conspiracy theories and esoteric explanations to bring David Icke and even Alex Jones to mind. Yet, he’s smart enough to keep his ravings sufficiently ambiguous. Apart from his stance on the Iraq war and hatred of Tony Blair, you’re never quite sure if he means it. And that’s the joke.

Coleman is backed by the original 1978 line-up of ‘Geordie’ Walker, Paul Ferguson and Martin ‘Youth’ Glover, and they deliver a pounding set, spanning the band’s entire 40 year career. Plenty of their trademark tribal punk-yet-not-quite-punk and a smattering of their more melodic and less shouty excursions. It’s everything a fan could hope for – a ‘greatest hits’ collection, though sadly Love Like Blood was their only actual ‘hit’.

Whether deliberate or a consequence of the O2 Academy Leeds’s acoustics, they made a big wall of sound, partly due to Geordie’s big wall of guitar. Arguably it lacked some clarity but it was undeniably a powerful backdrop to Coleman’s passionate vocal delivery.

The verdict? Of course, this was a love-in, a fan-fest, but it was more than nostalgia, and more than a gig. Killing Joke deliberately aim straight at the deepest and most primitive parts of the brain, to tap into something ancient and awesome. Other bands play but Killing Joke transcend.