It was great to be back at the big room at The Cat’s Cradle. The Carrboro, NC club, just a few blocks away from the UNC Chapel Hill campus, is a venerable concert space. Getting to see Stiff Little Fingers on their 40th anniversary tour of the release of Inflammable Material was also something I had been really looking forward to.
First, we were caught by surprise by The Avengers. They are a San Francisco based outfit that formed in 1977, opened for The Sex Pistols on their last show, and recorded tracks with the Pistols Steve Jones producing. They only released a three song EP (on Dangerhouse Records, where X got their start) before breaking up. Original members singer Penelope Houston and guitarist Greg Ingraham were joined by Zeros bassist Hector Penalosa, and the Avengers brought forth a very solid, anthemic pop-punk. Ingraham’s slashing chords and Houston’s terrific vocals powered these songs, such as ‘The American In Me’ and ‘We Are The One.’ Even with a break when Ingraham’s Marshall amp quit (luckily SLF lent them a spare), their set was taut, melodic and thought provoking. Penelope Houston was a great frontwoman for this band, and after their set I couldn’t help but think San Francisco youngsters like Green Day probably listened to a lot of Avengers. I left them thinking I need to get more Avengers records in my life.
Stiff Little Fingers are a band originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland that came up during the so called ‘Troubles’ (the civil war in Ireland), like their contemporaries The Undertones (see our Undertones Podcast tinyurl.com/zubcousin). Where The Undertones mostly avoided the Troubles in their songs, Stiff Little Fingers, led by songwriter/guitarist Jake Burns, wrote concise punk anthems about the war. Their first LP, Inflammable Material, was independently released and steeped in songs about ‘The Troubles.’ Word was out that they would play all of Inflammable Material on this tour. I couldn’t wait.
Taking the stage, Burns was joined by original bassist Ali McMordle and longtime guitarist Ian McCallum, with drummer Steve Grantly. The band backdrop was impressive, using a flame motif, with drapes for the Marshall amp cabinets covered in flames. They played a number of songs from Nobody’s Hero and Go For It, including ‘Nobody’s Hero,’ the awesome, melodic ‘Just Fade Away,’ ‘At The Edge,’ and ‘Safe As Houses.’ I had forgotten what a great songwriter Jake Burns is, and his voice was totally strong. The Marshall amps sounded great, the band was very, very loud, but the vocals were way out in front.