New Cross Inn, London
Sunday August 3 2014
It seems like only yesterday that Choking Susan played the New Cross Inn. In fact, it was almost exactly 12 months ago - but that's still pretty good going for a band from Detroit. Choking Susan tour the UK more frequently than some of our home-grown bands.
Tonight, they're in a rush, arriving late, piling in through the door,
plugging in and doing a quick line check as showtime looms. But this is
punk rock. Soundchecks are for wimps. Choking Susan can brew up a scuzzy
old storm at a moment's notice, and they're doing exactly that right now.
They've got that slash-and burn Detroit guitar, the rolling thunder of a no-shit rhythm section, and, up front, the unstoppable multicoloured energy-tornado that is Collen Caffeine, Choking Susan's vocalist, frontwoman, and all-purpose mayhem provider.
She hurls herself about the stage, accosts the New Cross Inn's fixtures and fittings, and gives it loads of intensity - while the audience hangs back cautiously and wonders what's going on. It's a slightly odd reaction, as if nobody's ever seen Choking Susan before, and they're getting the new band stand-off. But surely everybody has seen Choking Susan before, or at least knows a thing or two about them - this is the band that tours the UK more frequently than most of our own lot, remember?
Still, Choking Susan are tough cookies and they're not about to crumble in the face of a lukewarm crowd. They keep their Ramones-meets-The Stooges rackets coming, and by the time Colleen arches herself on the stage in the traditional display of show-closing gymnastics, they've convinced the doubters. It's slightly strange that there are any doubters, mind, but I suppose when it comes to winning over Johnny Punter a band's work is never done.
Now, I'm not in the habit of covering covers bands in this here webzine.
I think the only covers band I've ever mentioned was The Nuns, who got under the wire thanks to their genius concept: an all-female band, playing the proto-punk songs of 60s garagistes The Monks.
Well, here comes another conceptual covers band, just as genius - or possibly just plain ludicrous.
The Pukes play punk rock classics (plus a few obscurities) on ukeleles. Lots of ukeleles. It's like, how many more ukeleles could there be? And the answer is none. None more ukeleles.
There are eleven people on stage, and aside from the bass/drums rhythm section,
they're all uked up to the max and twangling furiously. It's amazing how massed
ukeleles can create a hefty, boisterous sound - it's not quite up there with
crashing powerchords from a Fender Stratocaster, but there's definitely a
wall of noise happening here.
The set, of course, is punk rock's greatest hits, which is evidently exactly what tonight's crowd is up for - classics all the way, none of that pesky new stuff Choking Susan inflicted on us. This, of course, makes The Pukes' job a lot easier.
No matter how many ukelele-based liberties they might take with the arrangements, the songs themselves are all familiar singalongs, and, playing as they are to an audience largely made up of punks of a certain age, they can't really go wrong.
If this takes the edge off the proceedings somewhat - let's face it, having a cheery knees-up to old faves like 'Banned From The Pub' by Peter and the Test Tube Babies, and the Vibrators' 'Baby Baby' is a bit like shrugging on a comfortable cardie - nobody is in a mood to complain.
And it must be said that the terse, economical bite of Wire's '12XU' cuts through just as effectively as ever, while I suspect East Bay Ray himself would appreciate the uke-take on his guitar part on the Dead Kennedy's 'Holiday In Cambodia'.
There's something gloriously surreal about hearing Discharge's 'Decontrol' being given a good seeing-to by a team of twanglers (and, not incidentally, a fantastically energetic drummer, who pounds everything into submission as if she's playing with Napalm Death) that ultimately makes The Pukes' artfully recycled art work.
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.