You want Killing Joke live? Here’s a rundown of their compilations and live releases over the last ten years… Part One

Killing Joke recently released Down by the River – a twenty track live CD… and its pretty bloody good.  I am a MASSIVE Killing Joke fan and over the last few years they have produced a vast amount of live, compilation and archival material.  Some of it good, some of it questionable, but always interesting!

So here’s a rundown of the Killing Joke live & compilation releases since 2000 – 14 of them in total, the most recent seven of which are in Part One of this post – and some thoughts on each.

Prior to 2000 Killing Joke hadn’t released too many compilations and they were mainly of the highest quality: the legendary Unperverted Pantomime fan club cassette (released 1982 but the gig was from 1979), HA! Killing Joke Live (recorded in Toronto over the 9th and 10th August 1982 – here’s the entire gig from the 9th), Laugh? I Nearly Bought One! (1992) is a cracking compilation, and then there’s the insipid Wilful Days (1995).

The stuff since 2000, in terms of quality, is a mixed bag especially as some of the releases are re-releases of bootlegs and fan-club recordings.  This makes sense – Killing Joke may as well make money from this stuff (i.e. bootlegs), but they could have spent some money on mixing and mastering it well.  Yes, I am talking about the “Original Unperverted Pantomime” CD which sounds like it was transferred from the original D90, underwater, via a Fisher-Price tape deck.

1. Down by the River (live)
January 2012, double CD

This live LP – a double CD funded by fans via Pledge Music – is covered at length in this post.  But in short, its filthy and thoroughly recommended. Rating: a dirty 4/5

2. The Gathering (live)
February 2009, quadruple CD

  • This is a re-issue of Live at the Forum, Parts 1 & 2, below.

3. Duende – the Spanish Sessions (live studio rehearsals)
November 2008, CD

This was our first real taste of the original line-up back together.  The recordings are of the rehearsals for the re-union tour (which itself spawned a quadruple live CD – above).  Youth is a notable producer and the LP was recorded live at his “Space Mountain Studio” near Granada in Spain.  Duende is Spanish for hob-goblin or elf.

The LP is a cracker.   Recording the tracks in a studio means the sound is clear, but the mix isn’t over polished, and the mastering sounds brutal.  Hearing the original drums and bass back together is really strange after hearing Raven’s bass playing (RIP) for so long. Big, cavernous, excellent. Rating: a solid 4/5

4. The Original Unperverted Pantomime (live & session)
October 2008, CD & DVD

Man, what a disappointment.  “The Unperverted Pantomime” was  fan club only release of a very early Killing Joke gig, probably in the north of England, in 1979.  It was released in a limited run of 2,000 numbered cassettes.  The cassette opens with “THE END / STUDIO TRACKS” which are the four tracks from the John Peel session from 17th March 1980, and it leads into “THE BEGINNING / LIVE 1979” – eleven live tracks from said gig.

The live tracks first re-surfaced on “the Unperverted Pantomime” compilation which has eight of the tracks from this cassette on it, as well as some cracking session tracks from Capital Radio (that compilation is a real gem, and will be covered in detail in part two of this post).  Some money has been spent cleaning up the live tracks (I assume all versions of this release have come from a cassette) and they are pretty listenable. But on this release the sound quality is absolute shite.  It sounds exactly like that car stereo you had in the 80s, as it was destroying the tape – the rhythmic up and down sound: garbled – crystal clear – garbled – crystal clear – garbled…  The first four tracks are from a bloody John Peel session and they sound equally as bad having been transferred of the same tape – even though they have just released pristine versions on the sessions LP.

The CD does have an accompanying DVD (which I couldn’t actually get to play) which has 11 live tracks from the East Side Club (Philadelphia) from August 17th 1981.  This material has been doing the rounds for ages and Killing Joke certainly should generate some cash from it.

But I think that this is a missed opportunity for a CLASSIC Killing Joke artefact to be restored and re-released.  I have a copy of the cassette which sounds better than this, and I am sure that someone has a perfect copy (if you do – get in touch at the bottom of the page!).  Oh yeah, and the album artwork is pretty average as well.

Rating: 1/5 – turkey!  Go out and get “the Unperverted Pantomime” compilation instead, NOW! which has eight of the tracks from this cassette on it, but they are in MUCH better condition.  Watch the video on YouTube.

5. Live at the Forum, Parts 1 & 2 (live)
October 2008, each part is a triple CD set – two audio CDs, one of images

This double CD set records the first gigs of the reformed original line-up (the gigs were on the 3rd and 4th October 2008 at the Forum in London).  As if that wasn’t enough, the two nights were “themed”.  On the 3rd they played mainly their eponymous debut LP and “What’s THIS for…!”, and on the 4th they played mainly “Pandemonium” and the early singles.  The gigs are excellent, the recordings are gritty, and – as the Duende CD promised – the interplay between Big Paul and Youth is priceless.  Rating: 4/5 – recommended

6. The Peel Sessions 1979 – 1981
September 2008, CD

Now THIS is what I am talking about.  We are currently being treated to lots of sessions being released.  Siouxsie released “At the BBC” – three CDs and a DVD, Bauhaus released a fantastic sessions album – Swing the Heartache, and it is rumoured that the Cure are to release all of their BBC material.

Sessions were recorded mainly live in the studio and they generally lay the songs bare, and, in many instances, the session versions are better than the studio equivalents.  And then comes Killing Joke’s John Peel session collection – and it is amazing.  I had probably half of these sessions on tape from the early 80s and remember them vividly but getting such hi-fi versions of these tracks – and they sound amazing – is a real bonus.

The first session is a classic – Wardance and Pssyche with Malicious Boogie and Nuclear Boy, the later two tracks only ever being recorded and released as studio versions in this session.  These tracks hinted at a more dub oriented sound which surfaces occasionally on dub mixes (Kings and Queens, New Day, etc.).  But my favourite session is the second one from 1980 – it’s short at three tracks but it is quality – Change, Tomorrow’s World and (a fantastic version of) Complications.  There are two more Peel session from the What’s THIS For…! and Revelations periods and they even throw in a Richard Skinner session as well.

And there is more session stuff available on other releases.  I’d highly recommend the Capital Radio session 1981 (which is available on the Unperverted Pantomime, and, yes, it is available on the Bootleg Archive but the quality is not as good), and there is also a John Peel session from 1983 on the Fire Dances re-release and a Kid Jensen session from 1984 on the Night Time re-release.  Rating: 5/5 – MASSIVELY recommended

7. RMXD (remix compilation)
August 2008, CD

This is an uninspiring compilation, nothing new here although I am partial to the serious dance mix of EightiesRating: a bland 2/5

You can read part two by clicking here.

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