Stiff Little Fingers at The Academy – Review & Photos
On the eve of the release of their first album in over ten years, Belfast punk legends Stiff Little Fingers played The Academy in front of a healthy, well-receptive crowd. On seeing long-running bands such as Stiff Little Fingers, it’s wise to keep expectations at a healthy level. Few bands manage to keep a live show enthralling for more than a couple of decades, in particular, those whose passion and aggression is an essential component. The grind of hundreds and thousands of shows understandably dulls the blade’s edge.
Founded in 1977, now at an average age of 52, and down a couple of founding members, the band obviously don’t look the same, and can’t be expected to pack the same punch they did 35 years ago. Remaining in the band from the original group are principal songwriter Jake Burns and bassist Ali McMordie, having re-joined in 2006, joined by long-time guitarist Ian McCallum and drummer Steve Grantley. Their new album ‘No Going Back’ is their first in ten years, crowdsourced via MusicPledge, and is due to be released this week.
While the look and intensity isn’t the same – although McMordie still looks a bit of a threat – the sound remains pretty close to the original, though having adopted a more metallic tone over the years. They start strong, with ‘Straw Dogs’ and ‘Wasted Life’ kicking off the proceedings, and continue the good form with ‘Just Fade Away’ and ‘Nobody’s Hero ‘. They sprinkle a few tracks from their new album over the course of the gig such as ‘When We Were Young’ and ‘My Dark Places’, which, though grand songs, stifle the crowd, but they’re easily won back with the second half of the set, loaded with classics.
The crowd nod along amicably at first, aside from the twenty-or-so young’uns in the pit from the start. But as ties loosen and top buttons open, particularly during The Specials cover ‘Doesn’t Make it Alright’, the number of middle-aged men and teenagers absolutely giving it socks multiplies by more than a few exponents. With pre-encore finale ‘Suspect Device’ and actual finale ‘Alternative Ulster’, the entire floor from soundbooth to stage becomes a frenzy. It risks being pathetic, but as an appreciator of heavier music, the knowledge that it’s possible to continue to love aggressive music that much in your 50’s is a very welcome relief. Besides, people that age joyfully demolishing each other in the pit simply isn’t a sight you come across all that often.
And that’s the power of this kind of music, and why these bands still tour. It’s sentimentality and it’s nostalgia, but it’s still awesome. They cruise through the second half of the set, ensnaring more and more bodies, leading up to the excellent four-track outro that is ‘Tin Soldiers’, ‘Suspect Device’, ‘At the Edge’ and the classic ‘Alternative Ulster’.
And lastly, a note on encores. It probably isn’t the time or place to be bitching about what’s becoming a contractually-obligated part of live gigs… But nobody signs a contract for two encores. Overkill. Presumptuous. Vain. My hope is that there’s some sort of legal reason for this, and the band aren’t in danger of being any of these things. That would be so punk rock.
To conclude, while they don’t put on the best show, they undoubtedly play a very entertaining gig. It’s worth seeing, with the right expectations in mind.
Review by Conor Cosgrave
Photos by Tudor Marian