Report: Stiff Little Fingers Live in SF

Leather-lunged frontman Jake Burns
of Belfast punk legends ignites crowd at Slim’s
in San Francisco
on May 25.

 

By Jud
Cost

 

There’s
no way Jake Burns’ voice could have lasted this long! And yet, there he is, the
original “gargles with razor blades” gravel-voiced singer for rousing
Irish combo Stiff Little Fingers, belting out one exhilarating punk anthem
after another before a packed house at Slim’s, many of whom, based on the fiery
slogans emblazoned on their leather jackets, have deep roots in the Old Sod.

 

Anyone
who witnessed Stiff Little Fingers back in their late-’70s/early ’80s heyday,
must have reckoned Burns’ voice would have flamed-out long ago. It’s obvious,
somewhere along the line he’s taken singing lessons to learn how to control
(rather than blow-up) that powerful instrument. Burns and bassist Ali McMordie
are the only original SLF members left standing. Ian McCallum, the new
guitarist, Burns says, fell “gravely ill” yesterday and is still hospitalized
in intensive care. They’ve had to import a replacement from Chicago who’s just
arrived hours before show time. Burns is stewing about having to play lead on
some of the numbers (“You’d think if you paid thousands for a guitar,
you’d be able to keep it in tune,” he mutters more than once).  He needn’t have worried. They sound terrific,
exactly like they did 30 years ago.

 

Make no
mistake, although both bands originated in Northern Ireland and were fronted
by “growlers,” Stiff Little Fingers were like “chalk and
cheese” stacked up against the Undertones led by singer Feargal Sharkey.
Both were superb combos, but It was like comparing Mars candy bars to
unexploded land mines. Most of SLF’s songs dealt with “the troubles,”
the ongoing struggle for freedom in Northern Ireland that’s led to
decades of misery. Using short, punchy, Ramones-like punk melodies, all Burns
& Co. had to do was add lyrics loaded with the militaristic imagery that
surrounded him in his hometown of Belfast.

 

“Gotta
Get Away” features another thread that ran deep through SLF’s material:
standing up for yourself against your family, against your boss. “Nobody’s
Hero” tied a tin can to the bumper of fame: “Don’t want to be
nobody’s hero/Don’t want to be nobody’s star/Get up, get out, be what you
are.” An amazing blend of punk and doo wop, “Barbed Wire Love”
is a blistering song rife with explosive imagery. “I met you in no-man’s
land/Across the wire we were holding hands/Hearts a-bubble in the rubble/It was
love at bomb-site.” Another gem, “Tin Soldier” decries signing
away your youth to join the military while still a teenager.

 

Burns
gets all misty-eyed when he reminisces about the one band that heavily
influenced him, the Clash. “I only met Joe Strummer a couple of times, and
the bastard even drank all my whiskey,” he laughs. “But he was the
one who convinced me I could do this.” A heartfelt tribute, penned after
Strummer’s death in 2002, “Strummerville” with its out-chorus
straight from “Clash City Rockers” says, “Goodbye
inspiration/Voice of a generation/I won’t be playing Strummerville again.”

 

The twin
towers of Stiff Little Fingers’ rock-solid reputation are “Alternative
Ulster” and “Suspect Device.” The former rails against the Royal
Ulster Constabulary, locked in a bloody, decades-long war with the Irish
Republican Army over whether Ireland should be part of Great Britain:
“Take a look at where you’re livin’/You’ve got the army in the street/And
the RUC dog of repression/Is barking at your feet.”

 

But the
one that ignites the crowd like a bomb-disposal squad on its maiden mission is
“Suspect Device.” Lyrics that outstrip any pro-military propaganda
have become Stiff Little Fingers’ eternal legacy. “They make us feel
indebted/For saving us from hell/And then they put us through it/It’s time the
bastards fell!” The final refrain should send most of the faithful out
into the street tonight with a bee in their bonnet. “I’m a suspect device
the army can’t defuse/You’re a suspect device they know they can’t refuse/We’re
gonna blow up in their face!”

 

[Photos
courtesy the band’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/StiffLittleFingers]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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