The Crack is not the most obviously revered of punk albums; The Ruts are not one of punk’s most revered bands. But tonight’s gig suggests we may have been under-rating both, as the revitalised trio get a fan-heavy Liquid Room bouncing along to this 40 year old album of tight, powerful dubby punk.
They introduce themselves from off stage with a spoken word poeticisation of their history and a promise to “set our souls ablaze”. As is standard practice in anniversary shows like this, they dedicate the first half of the night to a straight run-through of the album with little pause for chat. It means their most famous number is first out the trap – Babylon’s Burning announcing its arrival in a blare of sirens and alarms and frantic guitar energy. Our souls may not be ablaze, but the first sparks in the room have been ignited.
What follows reveals a band that have lost little of their passion and drive, while growing in musical virtuosity. The two remaining original members generate a hell of a rhythmic rumble – drummer Ruffy laying down free, spacious rhythms with casual confidence, while bassist (and now singer) Segs’ melodious lines prowl up and down the fretboard. Newer member Leigh Heggarty says little, but lets his guitar heroics do the talking.
Dope For Guns is itchy and vital. S.U.S. is tense and menacing. Jah War goes down very well, and it’s interesting to reflect how some of a younger generation would bristle at the “cultural appropriation” of white boys going the full roots reggae, when at the time it was a reflection of anti-racist solidarity and their bond with fellow Southall band Misty In Roots.
Just as the audience get skanking, Criminal Mind is introduced as a song you can’t dance to “unless you’re under 40” which rules out 95% of the audience. But if something so energetic is beyond a crowd of such advanced age, there’s some slowing up once they’ve finished The Crack and returned for some other greatest hits. The anti-drug reggae lament Love In Vain is combined slickly with Police & Thieves as a tribute to the late Joe Strummer, Junior Murvin, and the Ruts’ own fallen heroes, Malcolm Owen and Paul Fox. Signing off with Staring At The Rude Boys (and with In A Rut making an appearance earlier in the evening), they’ve ticked all boxes.
So no, they might not be as heralded as some of their contemporaries, their back catalogue may be slimmer too, but here in 2019, they’ve still got fire in their bellies, they rock a good suit-and-hat combo, and they know how to play a room. You can’t say fairer than that.