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Nomeansno – Voodoo, Belfast


Just under three years since they delivered a whiplash-inducing, criminally under-attended show here back in 2010, Nomeansno return to Belfast still very much assured of their reputation as being one of the mind-bogglingly accomplished triptychs in the entire pantheon of punk rock. Pioneering, virtuoso and notoriously disinterested in playing by the rules, they have paved the way for innumerable acts of their ilk whilst effortlessly defying all kinds of kneejerk classification for almost thirty-five years. The question remains: will fans – and indeed the merely curious – attend in their roves, as they should, this time around?

The answer, lest we mull on the matter for too long, is yes. With upstairs in Belfast’s Voodoo packed to the veritable rafters, guitarist/vocalist Tom Holliston and brothers Rob (bass/vocals) and John Wright (drums/vocals) walk out on stage, casual as you like, just after half ten. Preceded by an inexplicable electronic/dub rendering of the 1993 song, ‘The River’ is a thoroughly trouncing opener, the front of tonight’s already half-packed crowd immediately immersed in Rob Wright’s insatiable, bellowing cries. Recent track, the considerably more sprightly ‘In Here Eyes’ segues into jubilant punk surge of ‘Oh No! Bruno!’ from the Canadian band’s iconic Wrong LP. Here John’s prodigal, perfectly pummeling drumming comes to the fore as breakneck, prog-hardcore rhythms summon much flailing and fist-clenched abandon from the Nomeansno faithful at the fore.

Following the first of a number of mid-song episodes in which the Wright brothers spout all kinds of lovingly incoherent guff at each other and the crowd – John Wright bearing an slightly uncanny resemblance to Ronnie Barker – the groove-laden ‘Everyday I Start To Ooze’ proves an early highlight, each member brandishing the hugely impressive hallmarks of their now infamous virtuosic musicianship and absurdist lyrical shtick. As is only to be expected, a brief glance across the room during its ska breakdown sees the crowd suitably split between wild, smitten aficionados and stoic, arms-crossed newcomers statically stood towards the back of the room. More banter from the Wright brothers regarding their last show here – “We had snow here last time, right?” – segues into a particularly celebratory ‘Jubliation’ and the menacing post-punk assault that is ‘Ghosts’.

And so the crowdsurfing begins.

With every other song drawing upon the band’s infamous leaning towards pondering the throes of time, age and death, the band, as befits their reputation, never miss an opportunity to self-reference their own “oldness” (something rarely omitted from the briefest review or blurb on the three-piece). With Rob Wright pulling all kinds of excitable facial expressions at the crowd, attacking his bass with unparalleled prowess, the commanding funk decree of ‘Slave’ sees the biggest vocal response thus far just before ‘One and The Same’ provides a slight lull despite its proggier tangents and first-rate guitar work by Holliston. An impromptu, decidedly jazzier cover of ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ follows on its heels before the rabid psychopunk of instrumental ‘Obsessed’ proves a highlight.

Nearing the end up, set peak ‘The Tower’ furiously rears its head, its palm-muted, punishing verses upping the crowdsurfing ante yet some more. At no other point tonight do Holliston and the Wright brothers interlink with such inimitable force, several audience members bounding off each other, eyes closed and happily lapsed in appreciation of its brilliantly heavy scourge. Having walked out stage briefly to encourage an encore (“We must adhere to years of tradition,” says Rob, tongue very much in cheek), John earnestly thanks the crowd, saying it’s great to be back in Belfast before the former mentions that their great-grandfather was “from Ulster”. “Luckily he had the sense to get the fuck out,” he adds, the crowd very much in wry agreement.

And so, following the unravelling, latter-day highlight of prog-punk ‘Dark Ages’ – a definite stand-out this evening – Nomeansno, supreme Grandfathers of Leftfield Punk, unexpectedly conclude on a parting one-two of Ramones covers, ‘Sheila Is A Punk Rocker’ and ‘Do You Wanna Dance’. Dozens are delirious, many are puzzled… Nomeansno are, yet again, totally victorious. Brian Coney

Read Steven Rainey’s recent interview with Tom from Nomeansno here.

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.