Is it really 40 years since Irish punk band Stiff Little Fingers released their incendiary debut album Inflammable Material?
The calendar says so, but you wouldn’t think it as they brought their Ignition tour to a sold-out O2 Academy in Newcastle on Friday night.
One of the most exciting bands of their time, they continue to defy advancing age and produce a live show which is right up there with the best in the business.
Frontman Jake Burns and bassist Ali McMordie remain from the original line-up, though drummer Steve Grantley and Iain McCallum on rhythm guitar have each notched well over 20 years’ service – not bad considering the band’s original incarnation lasted just six.
Recent tours have featured some top-notch support acts, and this one is no exception, with proceedings opened by Eddie And The Hot Rods, who last played with SLF back in 1978.
Their 45-minute set of punked-up R&B, featuring the classics Teenage Depression and Do Anything You Wanna Do, as well as covers of The Who’s The Kids Are Alright and Them’s Gloria, warmed the crowd up nicely, though it was hampered by sound problems – a portent for things to come.
Time for the main event then; Fingers blazed onstage and opened with Law And Order, a deep cut from their debut album, which by my reckoning hasn’t figured in their setlist for about 10 years.
At The Edge, their biggest hit, was next (No 15 back in 1980), followed by one of their ‘holy trinity’ of tunes, Suspect Device, more usually kept till the end of the set, or even an encore.
The boys clearly meant business, and their 90-minute set included a few surprises. I can think of half a dozen ‘undroppable’ crowd favourites which they didn’t play, but no one minded. In their place we got that the likes of the rarely-played State Of Emergency (also from the first album), and the return of Harp and Silver Lining.
Many of the songs which see Burns and co continue to fill 2,000-capacity venues this far into their career were, of course, present and correct: songs like Wasted Life and the fist-clenching anthem Listen, which has never been a personal favourite, but I always find myself singing along to.
Their most recent album, 2014’s No Going Back, was their best since their heyday, and two of its songs seem to have taken up residence in the set; My Dark Places, which is about depression, and Guilty As Sin (addressing abuse in the Catholic church).
Fingers have never been afraid to tackle thorny issues, and that’s the case with new song 16 Shots, which tells the story of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black youth killed by Chicago police. It’s a corker, and suggests Burns sees SLF very much as a going concern, not content to trade on past glories.
The frontman was in great voice throughout, though he wasn’t helped by a fitful sound, which at times saw him swamped by drums and bass – though at least his vocals never cut out completely, which happened to McCallum when he took the lead mic for Can’t Get Away With That.
Instead of letting them put him off its stride, the problems seemed to energise Burns’ performance, and the main set’s closing one-two of Nobody’s Hero and Gotta Getaway were as good as I’ve ever heard them.
A three-song encore followed, starting with another deep cut, Drinkin’ Again, from Burns’s 2006 solo album, and continuing with Tin Soldiers (sadly hampered by more sound problems) and to round off the night – what else? – Alternative Ulster.
As the two blokes behind me remarked as we filed out of the sweaty hall, “they never let you down, do they?” No lads, they don’t. Roll on next year.