Back in the heyday of Punk, The Ruts emerged as one of the most original and influential bands of the genre.
Mixing social comment, reggae and punk they succinctly managed to achieve musically in one album what took The Clash three.
Their debut ‘The Crack’ launched them into the top ten, but within months they were finished after singer Malcolm Owen died from a heroin overdose.
The three remaining musicians continued for a few years as ‘Ruts DC’, ditching the punk side to their music and producing some stunning albums of political, witty and groundbreaking dub rock/reggae, working with legends such as The Mad Professor and Smiley Culture before petering out to obscurity and indifference.
Fast forward 30 years and a half full but eagerly anticipating audience has turned out to see the recently reformed band.
A boozy Friday night vibe promises a good night with a genuine sense of excitement buzzing round, and the band are greeted with a rowdy cheer as they launch into their set.
Tonight was a gig of two halves, and indeed two bands.
They started with their melodic, grooving Ruts DC dub enhanced by a fantastic sound, with an excellent additional female MC/singer swelling their ranks.
New songs from their fantastic recent album ‘Rhythm Collision 2’ were showcased to great effect, but half the crowd seemed restless: a large percentage had turned up expecting to see ‘The Ruts’ and not ‘Ruts DC’. A snippet of old classic ‘SUS’ was dropped into a new song, and as the set progressed the band seemed to step back in time, almost playing their career in reverse as more and more old tracks, each gaining in intensity and velocity, built the set from dub to their original punk roots.
Bassist Segs handled the vocals and front man role excellently with a good natured, self deprecating manner as they tackled their ‘Ruts’ roots with great aplomb.
Older Ruts reggae songs such as Jah War and the beautifully poignant ‘Love In Vein’ (written as their original singer attempted to conquer his heroin addiction) heralded their heritage, and classic after classic was dispatched: the pop punk perfection of ‘Something That I Said’, the pub bravado of ‘Staring At The Rude Boys’, the proto grunge of ‘Back Biter’, the quasi-prog experimentation of ‘It Was Cold’: we were reminded that The Ruts were so much more musically intelligent and ambitious than most of their punk peers.
‘West One’, ‘Babylon’s Burning’ and their first single ‘In A Rut’ saw the introduction of a polite middle-aged mosh pit, but then their time was up.
Ruts DC entertained and alienated in equal measures: the punks were frustrated by the heavy reggae presence in the set and the Dub heads bemoaned the compromise of playing the old hits.
But for me and everyone else down the front, this was a fantastic reminder of one of this country’s most innovative and finest rock bands. More, please.