Buzzcocks | Live At Shepherds Bush Empire 2003 (Music Video Distributors)

Unlike other punk reunion shows, the Buzzcocks’ second incarnation has become an established entity in its own right.

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Undoubtedly, one of the key features of a great punk song is brevity. When blazing through a three-chord onslaught, a band must maximize efficiency in its delivery, bringing each note hard and fast so that not an iota of the listener’s time feels wasted. So, considering this fundamental punk principle, it seems odd that so many of punk’s first generation acts have stuck around for so long, extending their careers with bizarre interludes and unnecessary codas. The Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, and the Undertones have all reunited at one point or another, and in their autumn years played music that was once designed exclusively for fiery youngsters.

One could easily lump the Buzzcocks in with the bands listed above, but for one crucial difference. Unlike other punk reunion shows, the Buzzcocks’ second incarnation has become an established entity in its own right. Featuring original guitarists/vocalists Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle, Buzzcocks version 2.0 has been in effect since 1990, embarking upon multiple tours and even recording four albums’ worth of new material. So the band’s latest DVD release, Live at Shepherds Bush Empire 2003, is not so much a “together again!” cash-in as it is the latest in a long line of documents of a reconfigured lineup in action.

The meat of this package, naturally, is the 32-song live performance. Even for a punk show, it’s a veritable feast of material, and the set clocks in at over 90 minutes. Wisely—and not unexpectedly—the band focuses on material from its heyday, back when the group’s hyper-kinetic breed of pop punk produced a steady stream of exceptional singles. Though crowd shots are at a minimum in the performance footage, it’s clear that the audience reserves its most frenzied pogoing for the vintage material, especially signature numbers “What Do I Get” and “Ever Fallen in Love.”

Unfortunately, age has forced Shelley to retreat from his voice’s upper register, dulling the desperate yelp that helped to make those early tunes so compelling. But given the inevitable wear on a rock singer’s vocal chords, Shelley does an exemplary job with the tools at his disposal, strumming through the set with the detached smarminess that Buzzcocks fans have come to know and adore. Shelley’s foil Diggle fares even better, as his barroom patron earthiness has a certain timeless quality to it. His delightfully incomprehensible rabble-rousing between songs remains one of the highlights of the performance. On the downside, whoever was cutting the show footage together deemed it necessary to “spice things up” with some occasional rapid-fire editing bursts that come across as needlessly obtrusive.

While the performance itself remains a real treat, the bonus material doesn’t contribute much to the package. There’s a lengthy interview with Shelley and Diggle that reveals nothing extraordinary, some assorted tour/sound check footage that remains thoroughly dull despite a few humorous moments, and some spare photos available for inspection. Given that the Buzzcocks have flooded the market with live releases on CD and DVD since their return, this release feels more like a replacement for out-of-print material than anything else. Still, for the completist fanatic or the curious newcomer, it’s worthy of consideration.

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