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Back in ’89, NoMeansNo sure looked like old guys to me. Now, twenty years later, I’m old and the band, who’s shirts proffer the slogan “Old is the New Young” look beyond age. In fact with their rumpled, fashion-less dress sense and their manic focus on their work, they resembled a group of mad scientists who’ve traded test tubes, Bunsen burners and petri dishes, for bass, guitar and drums.
When they opened the near- sell-out show, with a pummeling version of “Angel or Devil” from their vastly under-rated album, The Worldhood of the World (As Such) album, they quickly demonstrated how time has not sapped their energy but only strengthened their resolve.
The show, highlighted by Tom Holliston’s noisy, spidery guitar lines, John Wright’s thundering bass runs and Rob Wright committing assault and battery against his drum kit, was a marvel of passion and precision.
When the band threw in a new track, early on, the spine-quaking “Jubilation”, it was amazing how quickly they could become a folk-rock trio on the chorus. In fact while the band proved they could do a lot of things that night; blues, punk, jazz, art-rock, post-punk, dub and even prog rock – the most striking thing to observe was how NoMeansNo do not let up. Ever. Even the slowest songs burned like an acetylene torch.
In fact two back-to-back slow-burning ballads became the show’s centerpiece.” Brother Rat/What Slayde Says” from the 1988 EP, The Day Everything Became Nothing and “Something Dark Against Something Light” from the band’s 2010 “Old” EP built on deft interplay from one of the tightest, most inventive rhythm sections of all time. The songs themselves are in that creepy foot-steps-in-the-dark-alley kind of vibe that Rob Wright revels in. Both songs are about twisting the truth (“He is secretive, ruthless and cold He mentions just enough and leaves the rest untold” says the latter, whereas the former repeats the line “Black is white” like a mantra) and both radiate menace. While “Something Dark Against Something Light” is more about disconcerting rhythms and dark moods , “ Brother Rat/What Slayde Says” is more theatrical – a precise detailing of the rise of a fascist thug – sort of like “Bohemian Rhapsody” without the grandeur. It made for a chilling interlude.
The band saved a slew of songs from their most famous album, 1989’s Wrong, till set’s end. “Two Lips, Two Lungs and One Tongue”, which was interrupted for an entire cover of the Ramones “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement’ during their final encore, was particularly ferocious. Between that finale and a devastating version of their bleak-but-triumphant anthem ‘Victory” done for their first encore, it was clear that age has only made NoMeansNo more deadly.
(Image from selfportra.it)