Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull wrote a song decades ago about the hazards of being an aging rocker. Too old to rock ‘n roll, too young to die! But boomer rockers have ignored that warning and instead have continued touring, making new albums, and dressing like they are still 17. Still, it’s strange to see bands trying to recapture their (and their fans’) youths while performing their 50th anniversary tour. The Stones did that about a decade ago, as did the Who. And now it is the original punk scene that is blasting away with new tours while celebrating decades in the business. That was the case at Underground Arts on a recent Thursday as Stiff Little Fingers rolled into Philly on part of their 40th anniversary tour.
SLF formed in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1977, and were probably the first punk act to incorporate reggae into their music. As far as I can tell, the current lineup features Ian McCallum on drums, Steve Grantley on guitar, bassist Ali McMordie, and longtime frontman/singer/guitarist Jake Burns. They are all as old as me. But they can still bring it, and they have some really great punk tunes from the past in which to display their talents. It was a heckuva fun show with some serious moshing and a crowd that was pumped up.
I’m not going to lie and say that this band has the on-stage energy that I’m sure they brought decades ago. But the music! It’s just damn hard not to get the crowd in a frenzy when well-played punk songs with heavy guitar and drums are blasting out. And these songs are tuneful, with hooks galore, and some have great “sing along” lyrics, too.
I was standing right up against the stage so that I could get you great pictures. Well, and to have a fantastic view of the show, too. I succeeded on both accounts, and I think you’ll be happy with the pics. So what about the songs? Well, SLF ripped through songs like Barbed Wire Love, Johnny Was, Nobody’s Hero, Roots Radicals Rockers and Reggae, Just Fade Away, Alternative Ulster and Suspect Device. They played many more, too, but I can’t remember them all. I love Nobody’s Hero – a rocking song about being a normal person, not some star, and ends with the refrain “Be What You Are” over and over. I love that notion, and try to live my life according to it. I yam what I yam, as Popeye would say. Roots Radicals Rockers and Reggae has a driving beat, great guitar riff, and lyrics about ending war and taking care of those who need protection. And did I say it rocks? Ahem, yes indeed.
I had a great time and felt young again for a few hours. Underground Arts was its normal funky self, hot and packed tight. I’m getting to like this venue as quirky as it is. I’m sure I’ll be back as they get good bands there.
Oh, I can’t forget about the opening act, Death by Unga Bunga. DUB is guitar heavy, punky but with lots of classic/arena rock references, features three guitars (a BRP favorite), and had some pretty good tunes. I got some good shots of the band, and enjoyed their set quite a bit. They pulled some tried-and-true stunts, like having the lead singer go into the crowd while singing tunes. But they also had a good little theatric trick of the 3 guitarists and 1 bassist all holding their guitars behind their heads while playing (and they were playing a solo from Thin Lizzy, yet another BRP favorite). Below are the pictures of that. All in all, a credible opening act who entertained a crowd that was itching for SLF.
OK, enough? Nah, it’s never enough, right? It’s like having too much fun – impossible! But it has to be time for me to say sayonara so that I can do some other things. You keep the faith and keep checking back periodically to see what else is happening in the world of BillyRocksPhilly. And I’ll keep trying to post some entertaining things from the world of rock and beyond. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … I’m outta here.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.