It has been a while since I travelled this far for a gig in the UK. Let me explain: I love Front 242. And given the news that old friends of mine in Je$us Loves Amerika were announced as the support act for this Glasgow show, it was not a difficult decision to head north and see JLA in front of a hometown crowd, and 242 for the first of three times in the same week (in three different countries, making it four times in four countries in 2011!).
Empirion were also meant to be playing this show, but dropped out for reasons unknown – leaving just Je$us Loves Amerika as support. Not that this was a bad thing – we ended up with probably the longest set I’ve ever seen them play live. And eight years after I first saw them live, and a good eighteen months since the last time (as support to Front Line Assembly in London), it was clear once again that the extended timescales this band work to have been put to good use.
A new (very limited) EP was released in time for the show, and the set was opened with the title track from it. What could have been a risk (of the unknown) actually turned out to be a wise choice, as FYA is by a long chalk their best track yet. A snarling, slamming industrial track with processed guitars and a killer chorus – and a massive step forward. Impressively, it was one of six new songs, some of which have already been in sets previously, but more than anything this confirms just how confident they are in their new material, that they no longer have to just fall back on first-album material.
Not that this was ignored – some old favourites were still around, and still pack quite a punch, although there was a nagging feeling that some of the new stuff is so good that there may not be a need to look at the past soon enough. This was rammed home later in the set by the airing of the other of the strongest of the new songs, Everything Is Fine – another stomping industrial monster that like FYA, doesn’t half remind me of Cubanate in their prime.
Je$us Loves Amerika setlist
Narcotic Influence [Empirion cover]
Everything Is Fine
The Wheel [Coil cover]
Dogma [feat. Ex Oxime]
Fuck Tha Police [N.W.A. cover] [feat. Ex Oxime]
The absence of Empirion was given a cheeky nod with a quick run through Narcotic Influence, the set was closed off with the guest appearance of Ed from Concrete Lung, who assisted on new track Dogma and then long-time set closer Fuck Tha Police, but it was the third of the covers that was most unexpected and, perhaps, the most interesting. Apparently deliberately introduced without reference to what it was, I must confess that while it sounded familiar, I couldn’t place what it was until I asked Paddy afterwards. It turned out to be a cover of Coil’s The Wheel, a fascinating choice of cover that fitted in surprisingly well – and was a strong update to a now pretty old industrial classic!
And that pretty much sums up JLA well, really – looking both forward and backward, but careful not to dwell too much on the past. With new songs as strong as these are, this is a good strategy.
I think it is fair to say that I’m unlikely to get tired of listening to Front 242 anytime soon. Or, for that matter, seeing them live, either. I can think of few bands who despite the time they have been around, still sound totally relevant, have a sound that they have been able to update without losing any of the power, and crucially remain an absolutely fantastic live act.
I’ve already gone on record suggesting that their Kinetik show in May was probably the greatest industrial show I’ve ever seen – and will ever see – but this show, in a smaller venue but with a no less crazy crowd – was not far off. Like each 242 show I’ve seen so far, the setlist seems to be juggled around each night, with some songs removed, some added and others switching places. Which makes it great if you are seeing them multiple times on the same tour, as you are unlikely to get the same show.
In fact, this show took me back to seeing them at Infest in 2008, where proceedings were opened with new track 98, the only new track that the band have aired in recent years. An impassioned – and unusual for 242 – political statement over personal freedom, it helped to build anticipation for what was to come. One thing is usually constant, though, in a 242 set it seems – and that is that Moldavia will be the track to get things going properly.
Front 242 setlist
Tragedy >For You<
Triple X Girlfriend
Body to Body
Welcome To Paradise
Im Rhythmus Bleiben
Punish Your Machine
And here it was amazing. All it takes is that opening synth line, and the whole crowd is buzzing with energy, and of all the live adaptations that the band have made, this is probably the best of them all. Other tracks need less adapting – you get the feeling no-one is ever going to complain about Headhunter having the whole crowd roaring back the chorus, or the monstrous rhythmic attack of Commando Mix (which sounds better live everytime I hear it) – a track which, as we discussed in the crowd as the track burst into life, could well work nicely as the best example to play to someone if they ask “what is EBM?” This is it. Hard-hitting, stark, and really fucking groovy.
The punishing military-themed attack wasn’t done there – we had the auditory assault of Circling Overland too. The other of the well-known themes for 242 songs – organised religion – was neatly squared off too with the pairing of two old favourites (and the live version of Religion still blows away the recorded version, thats for sure).
Needless to say, though, picking favourites from a live show as tight and as good as this is really rather difficult. A band who, after thirty years, still appear to have as much love for their own music as their fans do, and clearly are dedicated to putting on a kick-ass show every single time. And while some may complain that touring without any new material for so long may get boring, why should 242 have to record anything new now? After all, they set the benchmark so high themselves in the first place that they are now in the position of having no peers, and no-one since has come close to the influence that they have.
And anyway, if they keep on being this good live I’ll happily pay the money to see them every single time I can.