Buzzcocks | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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BUZZCOCKS

I could probably fill an entire page with bands inspired by this British punk-pop quartet--but for starters, how about Naked Raygun, Sugar, All, Green Day, Elastica, the Foo Fighters, the Offspring, the Smoking Popes, and Nirvana, who invited the 'Cocks to open for them on their last European tour? During the band's original run, from 1976 to 1981, it released an endless stream of three-minute singles whose jubilant melodies, razor-sharp guitar sound, and frenetic drum work combined the Beatles' pop smarts with the Sex Pistols' aggression. But U.S. record sales were disappointing, and primary tunesmith Pete Shelley, frustrated with the band's limitations, quit to pursue a solo career. After a 1989 reunion tour ballooned into two and a half years of engagements with a shifting roster, Shelley and fellow songwriter-guitarist Steve Diggle officially formed a second Buzzcocks with young acolytes Tony Barber on bass and Phil Barker on drums. In the past seven years, this new lineup has put out three albums, and while only Trade Test Transmissions (Caroline, 1993) recaptures the Buzzcocks' original glory, the new Modern (Go Kart) shows the middle-aged Shelley and Diggle still capable of turning their longing and frustration into timeless pop. The best tracks ("Thunder of Hearts," "Turn of the Screw," "Sneaky," "Under the Sun") erupt into elated choruses that recall classic singles like "I Don't Mind" and "Ever Fallen in Love?"; other tunes ("Rendezvous," "Choices," "Why Compromise?") revisit with mixed results the serrated hooks and weary philosophizing of A Different Kind of Tension (I.R.S., 1979). And a fair number are turkeys, many of them ("Soul on a Rock," "Phone," "Doesn't Mean Anything") reminiscent of Shelley's dance-clubby solo albums. But as a live act, the Buzzcocks aren't to be missed--the better new songs reflect the sparkle of the old favorites, and Diggle transcends his second-banana status, seizing the stage as a windmilling guitar hero. Even on a bad night they're brilliant, and on a good night they vanquish their legions of imitators. Thursday, November 4, 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. J.R. Jones

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