Hens Party Hard…
November 5, 2013

The room was filled with women in their late-twenties and early-thirties, over-dressed for the venue and showing the early signs of the influence of preparatory drinks on one’s balance in high-heels.  They giggle like they’re much younger as, in small packs, they approach members of the male minority.  Melbourne’s Palace, formerly the Metro, has seen a lot of different crowds pass through it, but tonight it looked like the scene of the world’s largest hens party.

Five,
Palace Theatre, Melbourne, November 4, 2013

‘Nice shirt,’ said a member of one of the aforementioned packs whilst I was ordering at the bar.  Behind her, a clan of onlookers were whispering ‘Omigod, omigod! She’s doing it!’ and giggling, and I remembered that I’d worn an Andrew WK t-shirt (the one with the blood.)  ‘Do you like Five?’

I told her that I do, and she cast an eye back to her laughing cronies before proclaiming, ‘They’re, like, my favourite band ever!  Are they your favourite band ever too?’

I conceded that whilst I like Five, I couldn’t claim them as my favourite band ever, though did respond with a rant on the virtues of Invincible.

‘Yeah…’ the girl said.  ‘Who is Invincible?’

That was my first introduction to the weird, weird audience of the evening.  Many of the members alleged to have been queuing outside since the early afternoon and were complaining that, had they been notified earlier of the venue’s apparently overly-sticky floors, would have planned their footwear for the evening accordingly.  My next was hearing their unfavourable reviews of opener Frank Dixon, whom I had missed, but think is the guy who played that Toorak Girl song that was being linked around on MySpace a few months ago.  Peculiarly, the DJs playing before and after him had also received billing, and they had a warm response from the crowd.  So warm, in fact, that camera-phones were whipped out to capture the DJ spinning favourite pop-hits of the late 90s and early 2000s.  In the lull between the applause remaining after Mambo No. 5 and the next song, I overheard the comment, ‘I love that song.  It was so sad when he died last week.’  It took me a moment to figure out that the commentator was confusing Lou Bega with Lou Reed.

The applause eventually died down as the last DJ’s equipment was moved away, leaving a spartan stage in the lead-up to the headliners’ arrival.  It was an ominous sign.  These backing-track pop shows don’t usually fare well in my reviews – Eiffel 65 and N-Trance was the last show like this I saw, and ended up being ranked 2012’s worst show.  My concerns seem to be unique, however, as the audience proclaimed their excitement as Five emerged onto the stage.  The remaining four members of the band, now somewhat inappropriately named, except when compared with the likes of Ben Folds Five, look to be pleased with the turn-out:  this was the second of two sold-out Melbourne shows, a feat that it could be argued the band might have struggled to achieve during the height of their fame in 1998 and -9 when the group were constantly charting, albeit behind peers like N*Sync and Backstreet Boys.FiveMetro
Along with the applause was the return of the sea of camera-phone screens, which isn’t too unusual.  What was unusual, however, was that a majority of these screens remained firmly in position for the remainder of the show as many fans of this genre appear satisfied to watch through a 4-inch screen.

The lack of instrumentation turned out to be no problem, with the group sufficiently filling in the vocal-blanks left by the absent J, and ensuring constant on-stage action by relishing in recreating the synchronised dance moves from their video clips.  It was the dance tunes that proved to be the evening’s highlights, with Everybody Get Up, When The Lights Go Out and stalker-pop anthem Don’t Wanna Let You Go being stand-outs.  Sneaking in their cover of We Will Rock You early set a clap-along in motion which momentarily dislodged some of the camera screens, but only briefly.  Whilst the customary ballads were there to ensure all the singles were covered, they drew a lull in interest from the audience, aside from when the theatrical hints of homoeroticism between band members produced the odd squeal through the audience.  Connessuirs of Five’s catalogue might have been hoping for an encore of the signature hidden ‘Track 55′ songs, like the band’s ode to Inspector Gadget, but (despite my screamed requests and the glares of disapproval from those surrounding me,) they were not forthcoming.

For a smaller-than-usual group of guys alone on stage without instruments, the remainder of Five put on a good show to an unusual audience, many of whom left commenting on a fine pop show and the venue’s lack of cigarettes for sale.  The band proved that they are still, true to their albums’ sentiments, an authority on being back, getting down, and not going away.

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One Man Party…
May 17, 2012

We went to the front, with our names on the list.
Those who were strangers had turned into friends.
Lauren From Glebe – Muscles

It was one of the strangest and most interesting concert experiences I have ever had.  After the first song, Andrew W.K. announced ‘You know what?  This stage is just another dance floor, right?’

Andrew W.K.,
Pier Live, Frankston, May 2, 2012

It was an eerily quiet night in Funkytown as I walked from the car park to the old 21st Century nightclub.  At the corner, a man wearing a flannelette shirt asked me something I didn’t understand.  Perhaps it was because I’d been out of town so long, but what he was saying didn’t seem to make any sense.

‘What’s a round worth here?’ he asked, leaning deviously close to me.  I noticed that he was clutching the remnants of a pot of beer he’d likely been tossed out of his last drinking hole with.

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ I conceded.

‘A round!’ he cried.  ‘You know?’

I didn’t so I asked if he was talking about beer, because if that were the case, I wouldn’t be much help – I prefer spirits.  Then I realised he could have been saying around and needing help with directions.  I asked him to clarify if this was what he meant.  He cursed, finished the last of the beer and tossed the glass to shatter in the gutter.  It seemed I’d upset him, and as the lights changed, I quickened my pace.

‘Come on!’ he shouted now.  ‘It is Wednesday night!’  I realised he may have been right, but was no closer to understanding his weird dialect, as he returned to a line of questioning regarding the value, or location, of rounds.

It was a much emptier 21st Century than I have ever seen that I was allowed entry to, whilst the man following me had been kept outside by the bouncer.  I’ve never seen 21st Century looking so desolate, but on stage a group called Bad Karma were playing, and literally wearing their hearts on their sleeves.  It was as though the singer’s Sonic Youth t-shirt had seemed through the fabric and into his very being, and if one squinted just a little, Bad Karma could easily be mistaken for some pub rock side project that Thurston Moore has going on.  To keep the pub rock vibe going, Heartless Vendetta followed.  Pub rock isn’t usually my kind of scene, but Heartless Vendetta played it enthusiastically, turning what could have been a generic support slot into something enjoyable.

They were followed up by the advertised support, someone called Aleister X.  I’d never heard of him, but he bounded to the front of the stage to fist-bump me, and give me microphone props for my choice of Ramones t-shirt.  He put on an energetic performance of a kind of electro-freestyling which was mostly poorly received by the crowd.  I, on the other hand, found his initially bizarre-seeming foreboding raps kind of catchy.  Dragging chairs onto the stage as props and shaking his fist in rage, I got the impression this kind of music would work well with an audience more familiar with the tunes, so it was perhaps a pre-emptive strike when Aleister X stuck around to give me a copy of his album later on.

The stage had been cleared after the two support bands.  The chairs Aleister X had carried onto the stage had also been removed, leaving only a microphone and an electronic piano.  Before long, an introductory tune played which sounded like it had been written and performed by Aleister X too.  A look around the venue confirmed that it hadn’t filled up much more during the support bands, and, for better or worse, it looked like Andrew W.K. would be playing to an audience that couldn’t be larger than fifty people.  At the pinnacle of the introduction, Andrew W.K. ran onto the stage, disappointingly accompanied only by a backing track played by a disinterested looking roadie.  I’ll admit, even without a band, I found myself jumping along to opener It’s Time To Party.

By the end of the first song, Andrew W.K. had made the aforementioned invitation onto the stage, and that was all it took to get me up.  The rest of the audience followed suit, and the rest of the show was carried out as a giant sing-a-long, with Andrew pounding away on the piano, passing microphones around the audience whilst he posed for photographs and accepted drinks from fans, which he usually also passed along with the mics.

ImageThe description of the tour, One Man Party, sums up the evening fairly well.  With everyone crowded onto the stage shouting along to a tape, it would have been easy to confuse the scene with the lounge room of someone’s house party, and no more so than when I Love New York City quickly degenerated into a chant of ‘I love Frankston City!‘  Other songs tended to fade into obscurity, lost amongst the on-stage posturing and chanting.

It wasn’t a bad night, but it can’t really be rated amongst other shows.  It was more of an experience, and one that brought a room-full of strangers together and leaving with their arms around each other, talking about how to get in touch to exchange the choice photos from the maelstrom of the stage.  It is something I’m glad I experienced, but now that I’ve been to a One Man Party show, I don’t think I’d ever need to go again.  It had a lot to live up to, after Andrew W.K.’s show last year, which I ranked amongst my favourite gigs of the year, and it didn’t really manage to do that at all.  It only really made me leave hoping Andrew W.K. would be back soon, and remembers to bring his band along too.

Photo by Anwar Rizk. Gallery.

Make It Loud…
February 2, 2011

Some gigs turn out exactly how one expects, and are fantastic because of it, especially when it is someone who doesn’t swing by the local venues all that often.  Fans (at least, if there are any others like me) spend years listening to the artists’ albums, developing an imaginary setlist for when the tour finally makes it to their city.  The risk here is that if the real life show doesn’t conform to the high standards of the imagination, one might be let down.

And so it is with Andrew W.K.  I’d skipped his combination lecture/concert in 2007 at the Toff, since I’m not a fan of the whole spoken word show thing, and I’d heard rumours that he not only took to the stage alone to a back up tape, but that the tape didn’t even have the lyrics removed, karaoke style.  The rumours were reportedly true, though the reports of it nevertheless being a night to remember, with most of the audience winding up on stage by the end of the show, and leaving me wondering if I’d made the right decision.

And, of course, the image of the pretend concert in my mind is still all I had: The band would emerge on stage without ceremony, unclear whether they are just roadies tuning the instruments until their free-form sound starts to resemble something familiar… the dynamic build up that is Victory Strikes Again, with the audience chanting ‘This is why we are alive!’ until Andrew W.K. himself bounds onto the stage just in time to shout along with the audience, ‘This is why we love to live our lives!’

Andrew W.K.,
The HiFi Bar, Melbourne, January 29, 2011

Even if the show hadn’t opened exactly how I had fantasised, it was still a good night.  I arrived to an already packed floor, and contended with more of a throng waiting at the bar than any kind of queue, and was just able to collect a pair of bourbon mixers and a bottle of water before a modest applause from the crowd in the sunken dance floor indicated some action on stage.  The band were starting, and as I waded through the more conservative in the back, the earlier applause was topped by a roar as Cherie Lily, Andrew W.K.’s Party Hard girl wife appeared on stage, uniting the entire pit in a fist-pounding acompaniment to the instrumental opening.  I passed beneath the air-punching to the front of the stage just in time to see Andrew W.K. headbang across the short stage to the central piano.  He held out a hand to the audience, managing to settle the excited crowd only slightly, before inciting them into further intensity by launching loudly into It’s Time To Party.

Up close, those famous whites aren’t quite so white, but it answers a question I have had for a while – how would you keep a white uniform clean when partying professionally?  I know I couldn’t.  And I guess Andrew W.K. can’t keep them so pristine either.  But who cares?  And who cares that the show didn’t open according to my plan?  I was impressed anyway.  Things like Party Hard girls can go either way, but in this case, it worked.  Even some of the lesser known songs from the notoriously hard to come by Close Calls with Brick Walls were perfect material for bouncing along to, even if all we could shout along was nonsense, and the catch phrases this artist gave us.

‘Party hard!’ and ‘Get wet!’ could be heard hollered, chanted and shouted from every corner of the room to fill all of the fleeting moments of quiet on stage (although realistically those moments were really only ‘less loud.’)

The show maintained breakneck speed throughout, though nobody – at least, no one in the front rows – seemed to tire.  How could we, when we had Andrew W.K. literally on top of us?  The energy was high from the beginning of the show to the final pounding intonations of closer Party Hard, and was even ongoing as hoards of sweaty kids spilled into the surrounding convenience stores to rehydrate before the afterParty.  I know it is still early days, but this gig is going to provide some serious competition for show of the year.