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Society's malcontents are finally finding UK's anarcho-punks Subhumans



Subhumans with Cross-Stitched Eyes and No Man's Slave
8:30 p.m. Tuesday
The Conservatory
8911 N. Western

Some things are eternal, like war, taxes and complaints about the first two. The timeless nature of agitation and alienation gave birth to punk rock, and since the Sex Pistols threw down the gauntlet, the UK's been a wellspring of fine bands exorcising their social and political angst. While a handful have endured for several decades, few capture the raw energy and rebellious spirit of the style quite like the Subhumans.

They're not musical trailblazers, but punk's never been so much about technical proficiency so much as a throttling attack like a fist to back of your head. The four-on-the-floor rumble and slashing guitar sound harks to the days of The Clash and The Damned, while singer Dick Lucas' keen, angry lyrics ride atop with clear-eyed vision and admirable diction. He rages against social malaise, whining hypocrites and the struggle to fight the power.

More than mere sloganeering, a thread runs through Lucas songs, acknowledging the difficulty in tossing over the system. "Mickey Mouse Is Dead" harbors an ambivalence with how anger and frustration morph into paranoia, while "This Is Not an Advert" notes how even rebellion is easily turned into another product. One of his finest moments is "Reality Is Waiting for a Bus," which imagines "An anarchy sign on the bus stop wall, but it's very hard to relate / In which direction do you turn? / Do you preach or do you burn? / Pamphlets blowing out in the breeze / A mother on her weeping knees."

"Waiting for a bus, you go through a few stages," Lucas said. "You feel really frustrated that it's late, and you get more and more frustrated. You hate the patterns you follow, and you hate the fact that you have to wait for this bus, and rely on somebody else in a position of power that is sending the bus your way.

"You're really seething and think, 'I'll have a go at that driver when he gets here. He's late again; he's always late.' You go through all that and all you feel is relief that it's finally got there. You get on, say. 'Good morning' or whatever to the driver, and go on your own merry way. This is exactly how reality works: It's all about putting up with minimum standards and letting everybody in power get away with that."

The band formed in 1980 and released four rather popular albums overseas before going on hiatus in the mid-'80s. Feeling punk's energy might be faltering, Subhumans questioned whether to continue.

While they waited, Lucas joined ska-punks Culture Shock and Citizen Fish before reforming for some shows in 1991 and coming back for good in 1998. Then, in 2007, they released their first studio album in two decades, "Internal Riot."
Since the drummer and bassist moved to mainland Europe in 2002, it's been harder getting together to work up new songs, hence the nine-year interval. Lucas anticipates another album eventually, although, he said, "it's slow progress."

Lately, he's excited by how the global financial crisis has changed people's attitudes, perhaps getting them pissed off enough to actually do something, rather than simply stepping amiably onto the bus.

"People are openly stating what a rip-off politics is, and how they don't trust any politicians anymore, and I'm thinking 'Yes, finally,' because punk rock was saying this shit 25 years ago," Lucas said. "It's a mix of contempt, pity and frustration that all the power they've got doesn't do any good. It picks up your rubbish and it fixes the streetlights, but apart from that, it causes all the wars. It causes poverty. It makes everyone reliant on money and wage slavery. There's so much misery caused by the functions of society run by these people that have all the money.

"There has to be a better way of doing things. At that point, I wish I could come up with some sort of fantastic diatribe about how to change the world that would actually work, but you basically have to start with yourself, your friends, your neighbors, your family and start local. If everyone does that at once, it goes a bit more national."

In the meantime, you can join some like-minded individuals at the Subhumans show, where you won't feel so alone.

"Disaffected people get united in a punk better than any other scene," Lucas says. "It's not just because of the music, but the feeling of anger and bitterness about society that filters through a lot of punk rock lyrics."

Not the least of which, his own. "Chris Parker

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