Sunday, October 30, 2011

Buzzcocks - Trade Test Transmissions (Castle Communications, 1993)

Luckily, I have seen these Mighty Men from Manchester twice on stages away from the Tidewater area.

The first fix was at a now-defunct dive called Twister's in Richmond, VA. Touring with the Lunachicks and Down By Law as part of a package deal for Go-Kart Records in 1999, the Buzzcocks were actively promoting their fairly recent (and Miami Dolphins-hued) Modern album. Dismissing the 'Chicks as "punk rock for girls in gas station shirts" and DBL as "sounds for skater shits," my fair-weather friend jOhn A. and I turned our heads and spent the duration of the support acts' set time chatting with a cool couple from Carolina (North division). Most
exchanges were of the "I wish the Buzzcocks would hurry up and play already!" variety. After the genie's grant, Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle -- two of UK punk's songwriting masterminds -- were joined on Twister's platform by Tony Barber (bass) and Phillip Barker (drums). Hearing '70s gems like "Ever Fallen In Love?" and "Autonomy" (their most metallic track?) in the flesh more than made up for the eternal wait outside and obvious questions from panhandlers. Cuts from Modern such as "Soul On A Rock" and "Speed Of Life" added just as much wind to the Twister's cyclone. Post-gig, jOhn, the Carolina duo and I complimented the 'Cocks on the execution of old and new favorites. In return, we were given access to the band's spacious tour bus. I mostly conversed with the driver and someone from the Buzzcocks' camp, but jOhn got a 30-minute audience with Shelley. My friend fired away with the burning questions, and Pete seemed genuinely taken with jOhn's humorous satire via his Skin Alley zine. The dude was beaming all throughout the two-hour ride back to Virginia Beach!

In 2003, the 'Cocks made a stop at the legendary Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill, NC (the only show I've caught outside Virginia's borders, save for a boss blues band in B-More whose name escapes me). New tunes like "Jerk," "Friends" and "Sick City Sometimes" made the self-titled effort another winner, but the totality of the CC experience lacked the magic that'd been pulled from Twister's hat four years prior. Still, I held Shelley's Sprite bottle while he was signing something, drank three quick PBRs, ate tasty pizza from the kick-ass parlor next door and heard Donnie Iris' "Ah! Leah!" for the first time in nearly 20 years. Not bad for an "off" night, huh?

Here's the final bit from my review of the Buzzcocks' s/t disc that appeared on the long-gone Empty Wagon site: "It's amazing that Shelley and Diggle were once at a dilapidated shopping center on Newtown and Baker Road in Virginia Beach." That club in the blighted part of town was called Outer Limits and had played host to other top tourers like drivin n' cryin' and The Posies. Like a lugnut, I declined jOhn's invitation to witness Shelley and Diggle perform numbers from their well-received 1993 comeback wax (Trade Test Transmissions) at OL. Maybe I was too busy hanging out with the Touch Tone crew at Summer's Past or some other watering hole in hopes of being the rebound for a lonely lady, but missing the Buzzcocks in VB was akin to air-balling a free throw from three feet.

In contrast, owning Trade Test Transmissions is like jamming all of Vince Carter's dunks in that famed All-Star contest in a single attempt. Gripping a well-worn subject on the hardwood, "Palm Of Your Hand" manages to keep its dribble inbounds with cheeky cleverness ("Executive attention, yes, the kind that relieves/You've got the instruments of pleasure at the end of your sleeves"). Like a baller braggin' 'bout his PPG prowess, "Do It" scores twos and threes "like the river fills the sea," but the star calls a 20-second timeout with emotional pondering ("My only consolation/Is that someday you'll care/Perverse sophistication/You won't get far if you're going nowhere"). "Isolation" is blessed with a killer hook (shot) and Reggie Miller's touch when left alone at the perimeter ("There's an empty space where nothing grows/There is no life for the rose/Only a shadow in my heart"). Were it not for the lockout that's threatening to deep-six the entire 2011-12 NBA season, LeBron and Kobe could use the title cut's opening tip ("Turn the television on/You've been reading too long") in a promo piece and leave the teachings of sincerity and sarcasm to bonafide instructors. Perhaps only Bill Walton amongst hoopsters past and present would be able to pass the classic-rock reference of "Innocent" while trapped in the paint ("Even though you're not my mom/I've got to get my washing done"). "Last To Know" rewards with something greater than the Larry O'Brien trophy in June ("I came into your room while you were sleeping/And tip-toed to the bottom of your bed/I held my breath so I could hear you breathing/Love's such a sweet thing").

The first time Bob Mould saw the Buzzcocks, Pete Shelley shouted the chord changes of various songs to him. Talk about an assist that's greater than any of Magic Johnson's spectacular dishes!

-Gunther 8544

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