Backstage Bar & Billiards
October 8th, 2015
Up until May of this year it had been at least a decade since I’d seen Conflict play live, probably much longer, and, when it’s been a while, sometimes there’s a certain reluctance to return to old ground. It would have been nice, of course, to go to Paco’s memorial show in London, just to pay some respects to the drummer and friend who died in February, but some of the more political punk bands haven’t stood the test of time too well. Ranting on about Thatcher two years after the old witch finally croaked – and 15 years since she was Prime Minister – is embarrassing and redundant, more so if you’re playing a US tour.
Thankfully, when I was finally persuaded to go and see Conflict at a place called Los Lobos in LA, they were neither. Kids were jammed into the place like greased sardines, climbing over each other to invade the stage, forcing the band to play in what little space they could find. It was complete chaos from start to finish, the kind of gig you talk about for years to come. Far from coming across as an ageing karaoke band with nothing to say, Conflict were still angry, still vital, and, more importantly, still sewing the seeds of discontent, which is largely the point of political punk rock. If there was a mention of Thatcher then it slipped under the radar.
Tonight was always going to be tame by comparison, those once in a lifetime shows being, by definition, rather rare, but the cumbersomely named Backstage Bar & Billiards turns out to be a cool venue with plenty of character, conducive to punk rock. And without all the mayhem, the whirlwind of stage-divers, there’s an opportunity to actually watch the band play, rather than listen to them from under a mound of people. Admittedly, it’s not quite as exciting, just the occasional stray elbow to look out for in the pit, and the band themselves seem to take a couple of songs to warm up, but from then on their delivery is ferocious.
It’s a shame there’s no new material, and ironically some of the better songs like Neither Is This are missing, perhaps because they’re too dated, too specific in their rage… “So Thatcher’s slime escape again…” A brilliant song, but it has served it’s purpose. Instead, we get songs that, unfortunately, retain their relevance year after year, Liberate, To Whom It May Concern, and the Slayer influenced Mighty And Superior. Yes, you read that right, front and centre when Slayer played the Marquee back in June of ’85.
Thirty years later Conflict still mean it, they don’t know anything else: “This is who we are,” growls frontman Colin Jerwood. “No apologies. Ever.” And none owed. Ever.