I’ve always known of Stiff Little Fingers. I may not know all of their songs but I remember constantly seeing their name pop up when working at record shops growing up. It wasn’t until I saw vocalist Jake Burns open up the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly show last June that I realized just how big of a deal this band was and how much I actually liked him and, presumably, them. Although it was just a solo show, it set off every trigger in my head that made me dig into their discography and shortly fall head over heels for this iconic band. It was just my luck that the band announced a full band show and there was no way I was going to miss it. I found myself surrounded by an older crowd than usual but that didn’t change the excited atmosphere throughout the venue last night as we all watched Stiff Little Fingers do what they have been doing for over forty years.
The Avengers got things started right at 8PM. I was unfamiliar with this group and was clearly in the minority on that. The band was greeted with a warm applause from the audience as they took the stage and kicked into their set. Everyone around me instantly started singing along to the words and, although I felt like a lost puppy in the audience, I was eating it up just as the band was. I was instantly captivated by vocalist Penelope Houston. From her talent to her energy, there was just something I couldn’t get over. I was inspired as I watched her. The Avengers started in the 1970’s. Things were way different back then, especially for females in the music industry, (I mean, I wasn’t there but I can only imagine how touch it was) and I couldn’t help but let that sink in as I watched Penelope kill it on stage. Not looking a day over 30 (seriously, she looked damn good… this isn’t just me trying to compliment her for some brownie points), Penelope led the band through their opening set with a sense of fury and calmness all at the same time.
The music of The Avengers definitely had an old school vibe to it. Instead of playing as many notes as they possibly could in every beat, each pass of the guitar strings was deliberate and each drum hit had a purpose. It sounds cheesy but it truly felt like music from a simpler time and I was loving it. You could hear the influences that bands like The Sex Pistols and The Ramones had on this band but you could also hear that The Avengers are their own band with their own sound. I know I’m late to the party when it comes to this band (very late but at least I’m not the people Penelope joked about who would come up to her after the show and tell her to “keep it up” because they could be huge) but The Avengers killed it last night and I only hope to see them again sooner rather than later.
As vocalist Jake Burns explained, last night’s show, and the tour it is part of, was a little party for the band’s fortieth birthday and was treated as such. Instead of just playing song after song after song, Jake took the time to add little anecdotes between some of the songs. I loved when he joked about how his favorite Stiff Little Fingers song was one that he apparently wrote in a key that was too high for him to sing. The audience was still laughing as the band jumped into the song in a much lower and more accessible key for Jake (sadly I didn’t catch the name of the song and don’t know their song titles enough to even attempt to guess which one it was). There were many moments like this where the audience was left laughing from one of Jake’s stories as the band jumped into the next song but the most touching moment was when Jake told a more serious story for “My Dark Places”.
Mental health is a struggle for everyone of all ages and all genders. Jake took a moment to talk about how he has been battling depression for years and it honestly hit right to the core. Jake explained that he has noticed that it is harder for men to talk about mental health and then went over the statistics that led to the realization that a man dies from suicide about every two hours. It was a heavy moment for the audience but also a real one. He was right, talking about mental health for men is different than for women and Jake is clearly trying to end that stigma. I honestly think that, out of all of the shows I’ve ever been to, Jake is the first one to really address mental health for men and make it clear that men need just as much help to get through this insane thing called life as women do. Even though I’ve always known that depression and other disorders know no genders, it was truly heart-warming to hear that addressed on stage and in such a perfect, no-judgement way.
Every song from Stiff Little Fingers sounded great and, although it’s been over forty years since this band started, it’s clear that they haven’t missed a beat. They seemed to play every song that everyone in the packed venue wanted to hear and whether you were singing along to every words, bouncing along to every beat, or just standing in back with a beer your hand, you were feeling something and had a smile on your face. That’s the sign of a damn good show.