Stiff Little fingers at the Starlite Room on Saturday night
Stiff Little Fingers wrote a song nearly four decades ago with a line saying that they weren’t “good enough to be a dance band.”
It wasn’t true in 1980 and it isn’t now, as the Belfast, Northern Ireland legend easily turned a sold out, or at least nearly sold out, Starlite Room into a sweaty, moving mass of people grooving to their ’77 style punk/reggae rock stylings.
The crowd was an interesting assembly of characters, with more than a few on the floor of the same vintage as the musicians onstage. They mixing easily with younger, mohawked fans. It wasn’t long after they the stage with Wait and See that veteran fans were joining younger acolytes for a full on, punk karaoke singalong.
Stiff Little Fingers had a lot to offer the Starlite crowd in that regard, mostly keeping the set list to the catchiest, most popular offerings from their first four albums.
They burned through Gotta Gettaway and Nobody’s Heroes (from their second release) before vocalist/lead guitarist Jake Burns pulled out When We Were Young from their latest album, No Going Back. He prefaced it saying he was inspired to write after a drunken, late night conversation with Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott.
Safe as Houses and Barbed Wire Love (bassist Ali McMordie providing the doo-wop vocals in the chorus) kept the momentum going, with the crowd taking particular delight in their cover of The Specials’ Doesn’t Make it Alright.
After that it was a countdown, the band cranking out new songs (My Dark Places) and old (Wasted Life, Tin Soldiers) as everyone in the building waited for the two tracks most associated with Burns and company. They ended the set on Suspect Device, their first and most notorious single, before heading back onstage for a ferocious take on Bob Marley’s Johnny Was, ending the night with the song that will forever define them, the anthemic, heart-stopping Alternative Ulster.
The evening may have been focused on the past, but this was no nostalgia trip.
Burns (one of two remaining original members, along with bassist Ali McCordie) was a marvel through the evening, his vocals still strong and flexible even as he enters into his 60s. He had the lion’s share of six-string work, leaving rhythm guitarist Ian McCallum to fill in the sound.
Ali McCordie (who “puts the fast in Belfast”) was an ageless, ceaselessly moving wonder, keeping the rhythm section simultaneously tight and loose with drummer Steve Grantley, expertly moving between short, sharp punk-pop and reggae grooves.
After a brief set by locals Suicide Helpline, Ontario’s The Mahones primed the audience with a set of frantic, Pogues-style Celtic-punk. It was a whirlwind of sound, mandolin lost in the mix, fiddle wandering in and out, lyrics by frontman Finny McConnell incomprehensible and blurred except for the few that popped out: “oi,” “hey,” “whiskey,” and “bastard!”
Since the standards of the genre practically demand this, we can only call their set an unqualified success.
Stiff Little Fingers
With: Pogue Mahone and Suicide Helpline
When: Saturday night
Where: Starlite Room