Buzzcocks, punk rock pioneers, to play Belly Up Aspen
If You Go …
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Wednesday, June 1, 9 p.m.
How much: $20/advance; $35 day-of
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
The Buzzcocks were born 40 years ago on stage at Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England, opening for the Sex Pistols in their first live performance.
That legendary show, on June 4, 1976, changed the music world, began the British punk movement and launched the Buzzcocks, who are improbably still at it four decades later. On Wednesday, the four-piece band’s 40th-anniversary tour comes to Belly Up Aspen.
“It was all for the moment at the time,” guitarist Steve Diggle said of those early days from London. “It was exciting. We didn’t plan ahead much at all — if we got through the week, that was something. But here we are, 40 years on. It’s been an amazing journey. So in some ways, I feel like we just started.”
The Buzzcocks’ 1979 album “Singles Going Steady” — a powerhouse compilation of the band’s first singles — is a founding document of punk music and still, these generations later, a record that disaffected teenagers discover and claim as their own.
“It’s a true test of the songs,” Diggle said.
Along with playing as fast and loud as punk was meant to be, the Buzzcocks crafted slick songs with pop melodies and clever, ironic lyrics — the echoes of which you can still hear in today’s pop-punk bands. Songs like “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” and “Orgasm Addict” are still staples of any essential punk playlist.
Diggle, 61, said the band outgrew the sloppy live shows of its punk roots, focusing more on craftsmanship and figuring out how to play even its oldest songs in tighter, cleaner arrangements.
“The band is better than ever,” he said.
The Buzzcocks’ two principle songwriters, Diggle and fellow guitarist Pete Shelley, have stayed the same since the band’s founding, though the cast of players around them has evolved. Diggle credits the band’s longevity to his creative relationship with Shelley.
“Those first rehearsals back in ’76, you could feel there was something special happening,” he said. “You can play with some people, and you can tell they’re great musicians, but if the chemistry’s not there — all the great bands have chemistry, and we have that. Even if you hate each other, it works because there is some chemistry there.”
But punk rock will always be about the attitude.
“Anyone can learn a guitar or an instrument, but it’s really about how it comes out of you,” said Diggle, who also is currently finishing up a solo record called “Innerspace Time.” “You’ve got to go on some heavy journey in your head and your soul to get those kinds of songs.”
The band first toured the U.S. in 1978. Stateside shows, Diggle said, have always inspired some grander ambitions out of the band.
“When we got to America, we realized, ‘You know, it’s the home of rock ’n’ roll, so you’ve got to be bigger and better,’” Diggle recalled. “It brought something out in us in America, which I like. We could rock out a little bit more.”
Diggle and his bandmates met the Ramones for the first time on that tour in New York. He recalled the American punk stalwarts being confused and awed by the complexities of the Buzzcocks’ songcraft.
“They said, ‘You’ve put all these bits and pieces in there and have all these angular things going on,’ and they loved that,” he recalled. “God bless the Ramones, but they were always straight-ahead all the time; they did it really well, and they couldn’t understand how we did all this.”
The Buzzcocks released their ninth studio album, “The Way,” in 2014, and are mixing in the new songs with the classic materials on their anniversary tour. Some of the standout songs on the record, like “People Are Strange Machines,” offer a Buzzcocks-eye view of the 21st century, riffing on our smartphone- and device-warped existence.
On their spring tour of Australia and Europe, Diggle was pleased with how audiences embraced the new material.
“The new songs go down great,” he said. “When we play the songs off the new album, people know the words.”
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