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Vice Squad
Johnny Throttle
The Gaff , London
Saturday February 14 2009

 

It's Valentine's day, and this rock 'n' roll boozer up the Holloway road is full of loved-up punks, ready to get romantic in the mosh. We have red light, we have beer - now all we need is a musical soundtrack. Bring on the first band...

I fear Johnny Throttle won't be providing a Valentine-oriented soundtrack of swooning violins and sweet nothings, though. This band of authentically scruffy reprobates, who look like they've mooched along to the gig after a hard day spent loitering menacingly on street corners, play eveything at two volumes - loud, and bloody loud - and two speeds - fast, and bloody breakneck.

Their rampant ramalama racket is held together by the lurching, gurning apparition of the band's vocalist, who looks uncannily like Johnny Thunders - if you dug him up tomorrow. He hurls himself about the stage (and occasionally into the audience) like a hyperactive demon, pausing only to hang himself from the microphone lead, strip his shirt off, and give himself a wedgie. It's all slightly alarming, but it's also good fun - just as long as you don't get too close...

Vice SquadBack in about 1982 I remember Vice Squad headlining the Lyceum in London - a large and ornate opera house which had fallen on hard times and was then hosting a regular series of punk gigs. But those days are long gone. The Lyceum is currently hosting a production of The Lion King (whether this represents an improvement on the punk gigs is highly debatable) and Vice Squad are playing a pub up the Holloway Road.

On the face of it, that might look like Vice Squad are a band long past their heyday, but in fact the Vice Squad we see before us tonight is a new incarnation of the band, put together by vocalist and sometime punk pin-up Beki Bondage. And a few things have changed this time round.

Now, the band is more rock than punk. The pell-mell punkisms of old have given way to a kind of Joan Jett And The Blackhearts-style rock 'n' roll bump and grind, with Beki leading the guitar-charge from the front, touting a Gibson SG like Queen Boudicca rallying the tribes. Beki's own persona - witty and ironic, trading on her status as an undefeated survivor of the punk wars - fits the grit and wallop of the music rather well, and the blokes in the band trade humourous asides and comedy interludes ('I stand corrected, said the man in orthopedic shoes,' remarks the bassist, to a baffled silence from the crowd) whenever they're not nailing riffs to the wall. Yes, as a modern rock band, Vice Squad do some good business, and as purveyors of entertainment they're not so dusty, too.

The new Vice Squad have developed a neat line in big, rocky, assertive anthems, while Beki has developed a husky, poweerful rock diva voice a world away from her old-skool punkette shriek. 'Defiant' is a musical v-sign waved in the face of anyone who gets in the way, while 'Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down', with its catchy, shouty, chorus, is a self-help manual distilled down to four minutes of stompy beats and powerchords. When a couple of old songs come up, there's a distict shift of gears, as suddenly the band launches into a punkzoid thrash 'n' dash that sits rather uneasily with the new stuff. The old fave 'Out Of Reach' is a 100mph punker-frenzy very much of its time - but it could've been a hit single, Beki Vice Squadremarks ruefully, if only she had not stood upon her punk principles and refused to let EMI, the band's then-label, give it the big push.

'Last Rockers', Vice Squad's debut single from 1981, is still the post-nuclear epic it always was - in 1981, every band was more or less obliged to have at least one post-nuclear epic in their repertoire. Amid outbreaks of unrestrained moshing and booze-fuelled auidience singalongs, everything crashes to a suitably noisy conclusion.

Yes, Vice Squad are entirely convincing as reincarnated rockers, and Beki is the consummate wild-haired rock 'n' roll frontwoman, of a style I just didn't think they made nowadays. If, at times, the gaps between the old songs and the new songs sound like they've been precariously bridged with sticky tape and good luck - well, that, I suppose, just underlines how far Vice Squad have come, down the rocky road from eighties punk to here.

 

Essential links:

Vice Squad: Website | MySpace
Johnny Throttle: MySpace

The Gaff: MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find Vice Squad by name here.

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  Page credits: Revierw, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
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