The Ruts were, without doubt, one of the most important original punk acts – and I mean original in both senses here, in that they were there at the start, forming in 1977, and in that they didn’t sound like any of their peers, or their successors for that matter. Not only did they produce a succession of era-defining singles – ‘In a Rut’ stands as an all-time punk classic, ‘Babylon’s Burning’ was a genuine hit, breaking the UK top 10 in 1979, and ‘Staring at the Rude Boys’ combines social commentary with musical competence beyond anything most other punks acts could imagine. With their debut album, ‘The Crack’ they brought dub reggae to punk and slashed all over The Clash while they were at it. The phase two incarnation, Ruts DC, pushed into darker new wave territory for the 1981 album ‘Animal Now’ before going all-out on the dub for their final release, 1982’s ‘Rhythm Collision’. Small wonder they’re upheld as punk pioneers and regarded as massively influential.
The substantial turnout tonight evidences just how solid their fan-base is, and it’s an eclectic bunch who’ve packed out Fibbers and give support act Copasetics a warm reception (and deservedly so: not lonely are they tight, but the ultra-boomy bass sound is brilliant).
With their first album in 30 years – ‘Rhythm Collision Vol 2’– now ready to go, Ruts DC are back on the road and from the off it’s apparent they’re happy to be treading the boards again, and fire of a succession of dub-reggae tunes with real gusto. Although I’m less familiar with this material, the performance and the sound are both faultless. The tonal separation is of a rare quality: it’s possible to hear everything with crystal clarity, despite the bass tones being of such an enormity as to rattle the ribcage.
They effortlessly switched up into punk mode, with a couple of cuts from ‘Animal Now’ including a particularly vibrant ‘Mirror Smashed’. They were by no means done plundering their rich back catalogue, either, or with unveiling new material. ‘It Was Cold’ was textured and sinewy, ‘Fools’ packed some meat and ‘Jah War’ served as a reminder, if any were needed, that they’d always had a strong reggae element to their sound. More importantly, it all sounded as fresh and relevant as ever, while new song ‘Smiley Culture’ proved they’ve not fallen out of touch with current affairs and are as political as ever.
They’ve not lost their edge musically, either: Ruffy and Segs may be knocking on now, but they make for a truly awesome rhythm unit, and they’re both powerful and nimble. ‘Staring at the Rude Boys’ was dispatched in the first half of a brilliantly balanced set that culminated in a blistering rendition of ‘Babylon’s Burning’.
They’re back in no time for an encore that starts with a drum fill (to make up for fluffing it during the last song) and powers through ‘Dope for Guns’ before climaxing in a raucous and utterly exhilarating rendition of ‘In a Rut’. It’s clear that these guys are anything but, and Ruts DC in 2012 are no cash-in nostalgia trip, but a going concern who are as vital as they come.