The Buzzcocks’ reunion rises above the retreads, reunions of yesterday’s bands

By Greg Dunlap

A lot of people have been knocking 1989 for being the year in which the dinosaurs came back from the dead.

The Who, The Rolling Stones and even some members of Yes got back together and performed pretentious retreads of the hits which made them famous.

The one exception to this rule—the one reunion which worked on all levels without fail—was the return of the Buzzcocks, who broke up in 1980. Since most of you probably aren’t that familiar with the band, here’s a little history.

In 1976, bands like the Sex Pistols, the Saints and the Ramones started a phenomenon whose aftershocks are still being felt today. However, out of all the bands which defined that period, one group rose above them, using a combination of raw three-chord punk and pure pop sensibilities which created some of the most stirring music of our time: the Buzzcocks.

Between 1976 and 1980, the Buzzcocks cranked out over a dozen glorious singles and three LPs of hard driving love songs which set the world on its ear…or would have if the world had any sense.

Unfortunately, creative differences broke up the band in 1980 just when this poor rock-starved country was beginning to catch on to their brilliance.

Back in 1980, my concept of the underground was non-existent at best. So, needless to say, I missed out on this period in music history big time. I myself didn’t discover the Buzzcocks until about 1987. But when I did, I became enthralled with them and they quickly entered my list of top five favorite bands.

One of the things that always upset me about getting into bands like the Buzzcocks and the Jam as late as I did was I never got to SEE them. The live experience these bands created must have been incredible! All of the live recordings I had heard fom the time certainly indicated that this was true.

Well, 1989, “year of the reunion tour,” came through in a big way as the Buzzcocks blazed through the Midwest three weekends ago. Of the three shows I was lucky enough to catch, the Chicago stop, Nov. 18 at Cabaret Metro, was by far the best.

That night, the Buzzcocks stepped on the Metro’s stage and without so much as a “hello,” exploded right into “I Don’t Know What to do With my Life” from their last LP, “A Different Kind of Tension.” That moment ranked as my favorite concert experience ever until about half an hour later when, after a frantic version of “Noise Annoys,” John Maher slammed head-first into the opening drum riff to “Moving Away From the Pulsebeat.”

I was in awe. This is what live rock and roll is all about. No gimmicks, no tricks, no lead singers hanging from the ceiling and flying above the crowd—just old fashioned great songwriting and musicianship.

After the next day’s show in Milwaukee, guitarist Steve Diggle said that the band isn’t thinking much about the future yet as far as recorded output goes. “We’re just taking things one day at a time, you know? But things are looking really good right now,” he said. We can only hope.

For those of you who now feel a primal need to check out the Buzzcocks, the best place to start is probably with “Singles Going Steady,” a compilation of most of the band’s singles and b-sides on IRS records. Hopefully, you will dscover how music was meant to be heard.