Stiff Little Fingers

support Rovers Ahead
author PP date 11/11/14 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

Who would've guessed a lesser known group of the original UK punk movement with only three albums released in the past 15 years was popular enough to pack Lille Vega enough for the balcony to be open - let alone on a Tuesday night. With a crowd that feels like 50/50 split between Irish expats and local elders from the early days of the punk movement in Denmark on top of the younger people, it's certainly an unusual crowd mix tonight from the usual twenty-somethings that typically attend punk concerts over here. It's a double-edged sword though because although it's nice to see the 40+ crowd out for once, it's difficult to feel bitter about their apathy about newer bands and disappearance from the scene as they've gotten older. Here's to the current generation sticking around longer thanks to the internet.

Rovers Ahead

Rovers Ahead

Denmark's premiere folk punk band Rovers Ahead had been slotted to open the night, probably not so much due to their similarities musically rather than the Irish theme of the night overall. The eight members of the band can barely fit on the smaller Lille Vega stage, leaving not much room for movement, but that's not such an issue tonight considering vocalist Nathan is still visibly careful due to a fragile recovery process from recurring back problems in the past few years. They start off with the sound being a little too low in the mix, but that's fixed by the time they reach "My Dear Father" as the second song of the night. The band is playing to a fairly hostile audience with only a handful of people recognizing them for who they are, and lack of movement on the tightly packed stage doesn't do the band any favours, but fortunately their recorded material is strong so it's positive to note the older members of the crowd taking more and more of a liking to the band as the set progresses. "Went Out To Get A Drink (But Ended Up In Jail)" is only the third song of their 30 minute set, yet it already incites loud cheers from a crowd that's been mostly standing still until now, but slowly heads are beginning to bop, knees to move, and a (small) dancing pit to open up front. "Rose Full Of Thorns" is up next, which sounds even more like Dropkick Murphys' "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya" in a live environment than on record.

Rovers Ahead

Vocalist Nathan is orchestrating the show with his thick Irish accent, reminding the 'lads and lassies' to 'get on with it' and to dance, to drink and the usual banter associated with Celtic folk punk in general. At one point, the show is stopped for a 50th birthday wish to a Mikkel/Mikael/Michael, demonstrating just how old of an audience we're dealing with here tonight, before dedicating the next song for him right after. But such interruptions are few and far in between (aside from Nathan's interaction with the crowd often embedded mid-song) as the band plow through their songs in rapid succession, continuing with the dance antics of "One Mad Night At The Pub" that get some movement out of the crowd. In general, the set improves as it goes along with people getting more into it, and as a result, the band catching onto some of that energy and looking more convincing on stage. It all culminates in an all-instrumental finale which gets faster on every repetition with Nathan shouting "HOLD!!" after each one until we reach a ridiculous speed level that cuts the original repeating passage of 10-15 seconds down to almost two or three in the process. The crowd erupts into loud cheers and, I'm guessing here, Rovers Ahead made themselves a handful or two of new fans tonight.

7

Stiff Little Fingers

Stiff Little Fingers

Stiff Little Fingers are an old bunch. So their love of classic rock'n'roll is no more surprising than their introductory melody which feels like it was lifted off a seminal AC/DC record from their early days as they walk on stage. They waste no time in kicking off with "Wasted Life" from their 1979 debut album, drawing an immediate and an altogether surprising reaction for this scribe as I glance over at the pit and find a bunch of dudes that look like they're in their 50s rocking out in the pit with the energy of 20 year olds - impressive. This is the first time we're back in a career's worth", they announce, before continuing with "Just Fade Away" from their 1981 album "Go For It". And although the guys look rather old on stage, it doesn't mean they're just standing still (even if their rhythm guitarist looks like he's half-asleep when he's playing with his eyes closed half of the time). Their bassist in particular is playing like his life depends on it, with his facial expressions during the technical bits suggesting he's loving every single second of his stage presence even after almost 40 years have passed since the inception of this band. Their singer/lead guitarist Jake Burns is mostly content at staying in his space at the center of the stage, but his role is more focused on delivering the vocals and supplementing with humorous banter in between songs rather than to do back flips all over. He introduces their version of The Specials' "Doesn't Make It Alright" as a song they genuinely stole for the band and even tried to release it before the original instead of just admitting it being a cover, but it is also a more personalized version of the classic than a direct note-by-note rendition.

Stiff Little Fingers

Once we reach the big 'hits' from the oldest material like "Barbed Wire Love", the crowd delivers small sing alongs but really, everyone seems to be waiting for "At The Edge" and "Alternative Ulster" which are played after the encore. These tracks are played with a more familiar high tempo approach associated with punk rock rather than the mid tempo style of most other songs tonight, and it is here that the pits pick up activity and people start delivering better sing alongs. The songs prior to this have all been decent, but it is difficult to avoid the thought pattern that time has simply escaped from many of these songs, giving them a dated feel despite their authentic old school origins. After all, it is for a reason that Stiff Little Fingers are playing at the little sister venue Lille Vega when modern flagships of punk rock like Bad Religion and Rise Against are selling out the three times bigger Store Vega time after time. And this is really my conundrum throughout the set - as I'm standing here watching music 35 years old and recognizing this was the shit back in the late 70s / early 80s, I am truly wondering whether it holds any relevance in 2014? Looking at the aging crowd who are all nearing pension (despite their very lively effort to jump around like it's still late 70s) and the disappearing portion of people who are below 25 years of age tonight, I'm inclined to think it really doesn't. Nothing I saw tonight tells me I should care about Stiff Little Fingers now or in the future. The 'original punk' movement is about as relevant to the genre in 2014 as the next Fall Out Boy album. Ever since Bad Religion changed the genre forever with "Suffer", the preceding bands and their material has mostly lost its relevance with few exceptions (Social D, Descendents come to mind); Stiff Little Fingers' performance tonight is paramount to that thesis. To quote a classic NOFX line, "Not great, but pretty good, they played the songs I knew they would, we can concur, it's medio-core".

Setlist:

  • 1. Wasted Life
  • 2. Just Fade Away
  • 3. When We Were Young
  • 4. Nobody's Hero
  • 5. Silver Lining
  • 6. My Dark Places
  • 7. Doesn't Make It Alright (The Specials cover)
  • 8. Throw It All Away
  • 9. Roots, Radicals, Rockers & Reggae
  • 10. Full Steam Backwards
  • 11. Barbed Wire Love
  • 12. Strummerville
  • 13. Tin Soldiers
  • 14. Suspect Device
  • --Encore--
  • 15. At The Edge
  • 16. Alternative Ulster

Photos by: Philip B. Hansen

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