Stiff Little Fingers, LVC, Leiden 31/03/10

Still deaf from The Sonics the previous evening, Incendiary trudged up to the LVC which, despite being about 5 minutes’ walk from this reporter’s house is possibly the venue I visit the least. Why? Well, there’s hardly anyone on. To be fair the bookings policy is changing slowly, and I like the place in all its grotty glory. Tonight’s headliner is Stiff Little Fingers, a band whose astonishing early LPs are probably the main reason for the big turn out, especially among types of a certain age. Personally I’ve never seen them before, but I’m expectant.

First up was Cooper, who played a fast, tuneful set, more in the spirit of power-pop than punk. It was okay, and the music contained a number of hooks and melodies that had Incendiary thinking for a nanosecond that there was something worth listening to. Inevitably that hope would be dashed when a leaden arrangement or a burst of band hand clapping would break out (minus punk points given for hand clapping, sorry). To be fair they were okay in a chirpy, affable way.

SLF come on whilst everyone’s still tanking up at the bar, and Jake Burns mutters the introductory “hi we’re Stiff Little Fingers” as if it’s something he’s trying to keep to himself. Still things start off in giddy manner with Wasted Life off Inflammable Material which sounds white hot, even if the band can never be the all out assault they would have been in 1978-9. In fact throughout the gig there’s a noticeable difference between the newer material which is more reserved and, well… slicker, and the brave heart-surges off the first 2 LPs.  There are a couple of almost schmoozy moments when Burns dedicates a track to his ma, and when he introduces a track called Liars Club (about Bush & Blair). The latter is a very strong track indeed, but it’s not really what people have come for. Standing just behind the mixing desk affords a bird’s eye view of the crowd’s reactions: its funny watching people come and go during the gig, like swimmers who need to go and rest on the beach for a while. Inevitably when an old track comes out there’s a surge forward, especially noticeable when the Specials’ Doesn’t Make it Alright is aired. Still, Burns is in good form; we find out his ancestors probably came from Leiden and he’s up for a pleasant night amongst fellow-travellers.

The gig really comes alive near the end when we get a run of old material; Tin Soldier is as tumultuous as ever, and followed by a brooding Johnny Was (possibly the highlight of the gig), and the two definitive SLF tracks; Suspect Device and a rolling, devil-may-care version of Alternative Ulster, still a blueprint for forward thinking motherfuckers everywhere.