POP MUSIC REVIEW : Buzzcocks Usher in New-Wave Nostalgia

Late in the Buzzcocks' sold-out concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the British punk progenitors tore into "Ever Fallen in Love," the pop gem that highlights the most recent hit album by the Fine Young Cannibals.

Many younger fans on hand no doubt thought this an example of hard-core rockers offering a revved-up rave-up rendition of a popular standard, similar to what the Dickies have done to songs from "The Sounds of Silence" to "Silent Night," or what other punk bands have done lately with songs by Madonna and Suzanne Vega.

Wrong. Band leader Pete Shelley wrote "Ever Fallen in Love," which appeared on a delicious Buzzcocks compilation called "Singles Going Steady" 10 years ago.

New-wave nostalgia is here in force.

The Civic was jam-packed Saturday night for the reunion show of a band that hasn't released an album in eight years--testimony to the enduring power of Shelley's ability to write songs with hooks strong enough that they often sound as though they could indeed be cover versions of pop hits, but played with, well, buzzsaw non-dynamics.

This foursome's place in history is somewhat obscured by its being beat out of the mid-'70s gate by the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. Its legacy may well be that it was the first normal punk band, eschewing the campiness of the former outfit or the hyped-up fury of the latter (or even the poli-sci savagery of the Clash) to unpretentiously address the most basic issues of romance and alienation.

While Johnny Rotten raged "I am an Antichrist," Shelley sang "I Don't Know What to Do With My Life." Guess which sounds less dated now.

And so there were plenty of young miscreants who don't know what to do with their lives at the Civic, starting fisticuffs in the lobby when the slam pit inside got too calm or stage-diving or just modeling hairstyles--Mohawks and, yes, buzzcuts--as anachronistic as the music isn't.

Then there were the better-dressed and better-behaved veterans of the era in question, showing up late so as to miss opening acts Bad Religion and the Nymphs, a decade older but not yet too pooped to power-pop. They have nice jobs but bet your bippy they can still relate to the "Don't Know . . ." business too.

What young and less-young alike got from the Buzzcocks was an 80-minute set that stopped short of a thrilling performance--these blokes come from the stand-still-and-play school, save for isolated enthusiastic outbursts--but provided all the harmonic noise, fun and unfurrowed-brow angst it was supposed to.

The show's first half featured the group's less melodic, more furious material, while the latter portion brought more recognizable numbers, including almost everything from "Singles Going Steady," one of the most definitive and catchy of all punk albums. The climactic "I Believe" had band members departing one by one, U2-style, while the audience kept singing the archival chorus "There is no love in this world anymore."

Anyone angling for Shelley's solo hits or new material was left hanging. Prospects of the band staying together to record after tour's end are said to be a definite maybe. The U.S. leg ends Thursday at the Country Club in Reseda.

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