Better Than: Every other punk band since 1981…
Punk’s not dead! Was it ever? Perhaps, to a point, for a stretch in the 1990s, but it was certainly alive and well when British hardcore legends G.B.H. came to NYC in one of the final show dates of their current U.S. tour. Formed in Birmingham, England, in the late ’70s, G.B.H. (“Grievous Bodily Harm,” referring to a section of the English criminal code under which one of the band’s members was once charged — the band initially performed under the moniker “Charged G.B.H.”) was an early and prominent member of the “Second Wave” of British punk music, along with Discharge, the Exploited, the Varukers, and others. Unlike most of their “UK82” classmates, G.B.H. avoided the angry anarchism typically associated with the genre and managed to find a balance between lyrical content dealing with serious social issues and not taking themselves too seriously. And it has stood the test of time. Uncommon among their early ’80s contemporaries, the band has continued to tour and release very high quality new music throughout their 30+ year career.
G.B.H. took the stage shortly before 10 p.m. in front of a packed, enthusiastic crowd which appeared to range in age from 18 to late 50s (as vocalist Colin Abrahall wryly noted, “We first played New York in 1983, and I see several survivors of that show here tonight!”) and delivered an excellent, 25-song set heavily weighted to the band’s early ’80s favorites. Their sound is characterized by a consistently rapidfire, pounding rhythm section (think Motörhead at their fastest) with simple, heavily distorted guitar riffs, and rapid-fire lyrics culminating in gang vocal choruses.
Catchy and hook-driven, it appeals not only to fans of vintage or modern punk/hardcore but also (and I’m sure the band hates this!) any fan of speed, thrash and related subgenres of heavy metal. After warming up the crowd with “Unique,” the opening track of their new album, the band launched directly into a front-to-back rendition of Leather, Bristels, No Survivors, and Sick Boys, the 1982 re-release compilation album of the band’s first three EPs. An active pit formed in front of the stage with the opening song, and continued throughout the show. A testament to G.B.H.’s continued relevancy and appeal, the younger generation of fans that dominated the area directly before the stage sang along word for word. The set was rounded out with a selection of favorites from their first two full-length LPs (1982’s “City Baby Attacked by Rats” and 1984’s “City Baby’s Revenge”) as well as the requisite nod to tracks from the new album, and featured a cameo appearance on vocals by Jimmy Gestapo of New York hardcore legends Murphy’s Law.
The show was opened with sets by Burning Streets and vintage punk acts Reagan Youth, and Angry Samoans, the latter delivering a particularly entertaining set of classic early ’80s West Coast Hardcore with lyrics bordering on pure comedy. The undercard line up offered an excellent supporting cast for an evening with one of punk rock’s very best, G.B.H.
Critical Bias: Is it silly for people to still be playing punk rock over age 50? Actually, no. On the contrary, it’s AWESOME. The band delivered their performance with an energy level that would match that of any 20-year old musician.
Overheard: Unintelligible Scandinavian language from a group of scandi-punks that occupied the center floor…
Random Notebook Dump: Crowd Mohawk count = 14