Nemesis To Go Review
Right, then. Vice Squad at the 100 Club, twenty-first century style – well, it’s not going to be a re-run of that 80s gig I attended as a wide-eyed (and somewhat legless) young punk, now, is it? The 100 Club looks almost exactly the same now as it did then, give or take a few new photos of old jazzers on the walls. But many other things have changed over the years – starting with Vice Squad themselves.
Only Beki Bondage remains from that early line-up, and she’s no longer the ever-pogoing teenage punkette, shouting out her lyrics in a breathless yelp. She’s now reinvented herself as (or perhaps she’s just grown into) something of a British version of Joan Jett.
She’s a cool, credible rock chick, toting a guitar, leading her band with a combination of charm and don’t-mess attitude, and with a heavy-duty blues rasp of a voice. Beki is backed by a band of showboating rock geezers, who are never slow to throw a shape or two and grab some of the limelight for themselves – but it’s very much Beki’s gig.
At the centre of the band’s barrelling blam and blatter, she’s the visual focus, the leader of the gang, and she rocks out on the big, beefy modern Vice Squad numbers – like the thundering, riff-heavy ‘Defiant’ – with equal parts nonchalance and gusto.
There’s a smattering of early songs in the set – like the ramalama ‘Stand Strong, Stand Proud’ (a feature of Vice Squad songs old and new is a robust do-your-own-thing, take-no-shit sentiment), and the band do a fine job of reconciling the frantic, punky-thrashy older numbers with the more measured, structured feel of the songs they’ve written more recently.
But it’s all good rabble-rousing stuff, and the 100 Club crowd is very willing to be roused. There’s a good bit of moshpit action going on, and by the time Vice Squad arrive at ‘Last Rockers’ – their 1980-vintage nuclear holocaust anthem (in 1980 every band had to have a nuclear holocaust anthem) there’s a stew of bodies down the front just like ye olden days.
It occurs to me that Vice Squad are enough of a rock band these days to branch out beyond purely punk gigs like this – you’d think they could tuck themselves in somewhere between Rob Zombie and Flogging Molly at the Download festival, or something.
But tonight was all about the punk, and the punks are all right.
Back in about 1982 I remember Vice Squad headlining the Lyceum in London – a large and ornate opera house which had fallen on hard times and was then hosting a regular series of punk gigs. But those days are long gone. The Lyceum is currently hosting a production of The Lion King (whether this represents an improvement on the punk gigs is highly debatable) and Vice Squad are playing a pub up the Holloway Road.
On the face of it, that might look like Vice Squad are a band long past their heyday, but in fact the Vice Squad we see before us tonight is a new incarnation of the band, put together by vocalist and sometime punk pin-up Beki Bondage. And a few things have changed this time round. Now, the band is more rock than punk. The pell-mell punkisms of old have given way to a kind of Joan Jett And The Blackhearts-style rock ‘n’ roll bump and grind, with Beki leading the guitar-charge from the front, touting a Gibson SG like Queen Boudicca rallying the tribes. Beki’s own persona – witty and ironic, trading on her status as an undefeated survivor of the punk wars – fits the grit and wallop of the music rather well, and the blokes in the band trade humourous asides and comedy interludes (‘I stand corrected, said the man in orthopedic shoes,’ remarks the bassist, to a baffled silence from the crowd) whenever they’re not nailing riffs to the wall. Yes, as a modern rock band, Vice Squad do some good business, and as purveyors of entertainment they’re not so dusty, too.
The new Vice Squad have developed a neat line in big, rocky, assertive anthems, while Beki has developed a husky, powerful rock diva voice a world away from her old-skool punkette shriek. ‘Defiant’ is a musical v-sign waved in the face of anyone who gets in the way, while ‘Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down’, with its catchy, shouty, chorus, is a self-help manual distilled down to four minutes of stompy beats and powerchords. When a couple of old songs come up, there’s a distict shift of gears, as suddenly the band launches into a punkzoid thrash ‘n’ dash that sits rather uneasily with the new stuff. The old fave ‘Out Of Reach’ is a 100mph punker-frenzy very much of its time – but it could’ve been a hit single, Beki
remarks ruefully, if only she had not stood upon her punk principles and refused to let EMI, the band’s then-label, give it the big push.
‘Last Rockers’, Vice Squad’s debut single from 1981, is still the post-nuclear epic it always was – in 1981, every band was more or less obliged to have at least one post-nuclear epic in their repertoire. Amid outbreaks of unrestrained moshing and booze-fuelled auidience singalongs, everything crashes to a suitably noisy conclusion. Yes, Vice Squad are entirely convincing as reincarnated rockers, and Beki is the consummate wild-haired rock ‘n’ roll frontwoman, of a style I just didn’t think they made nowadays. If, at times, the gaps between the old songs and the new songs sound like they’ve been precariously bridged with sticky tape and good luck – well, that, I suppose, just underlines how far Vice Squad have come, down the rocky road from eighties punk to here.
LIVE AT THE 100 CLUB review