Punk rock may have been declared dead in the mid ‘80s, but Stiff Little Fingers never heard the news. In fact, save for a brief five years, the Belfast force has been active with a consistent, political brand of simple punk rock behind its only constant member, front man Jake Burns. A predominantly solid (if slow and heavy at times) 90-minute set in front of a small, condensed crowd at Summit Music Hall last Saturday night showed that the band’s charisma remains strong.
Burns’ sandpaper vocals were still fresh and urgent, belying his obvious middle-aged appearance, and melded the history of the melodic punk rock style that led to bands like Rancid and Green Day. A small but passionate slam dancing crowd of superfans — all of whom seemed to know every word — proved that connection and solidified it with tattooed homages to both SLF and their progeny.
The set had trouble building steam in the first half with too much focus on SLF’s later, decidedly slower and heavier material. But, soon enough, they thrashed through a litany of hits like “Suspect Device,” “Johnny Was” and “Wasted Life” before closing a second encore with the punk classic “Alternative Ulster.”
Burns asserted SLF’s connection to the Clash (a constant SLF comparison) towards the end of their set. “Everyone, at some time or another, meets someone that changes their life forever. For me that was the Clash,” he said.
He explained that, over the years he spoke so much of his admiration for Joe Strummer that “When Joe died, the papers and radio stations called me and asked for my reaction. But, with Joe’s birthday tomorrow [August 21], talkin’ ain’t enough,” he added. “Joe made it possible for me to write songs about my life,” he said, before playing “Strummerville,” and later a raucous cover of “Clash City Rockers” in Strummer’s honor.
Burns’ adherence to Strummer’s advice has served as SLF’s strongest quality since they formed in 1977, and still identifies them as punk rock greats.
Christine Cool is a Denver photographer and a new contributor to Reverb.