A propensity for verbosity…
May 22, 2017

With Opera Oblivia, Hellions released one of the finest albums of 2016. Full of orchestral as well as vocal flourishes, the album tackles complex musical territory. Similarly, if one pays attention to the lyrics, some heavy themes can be discerned: the challenges of maintaining artist integrity against the expectations of commercialism, overcoming self-doubt, scandals within the Catholic church.

A brilliant album, incorrectly nominated for an Aria award for ‘Best Heavy Album,’ when it would have been more worthy of the overall ‘Best Album’ category, but how would it translate to the live stage?

Hellions, with Endless Heights and The Brave,
Corner Hotel, Melbourne, May 20, 2017…

I’d very much hoped to pick up a CD or perhaps a record from the merch stand after the show, but browsing before the support band, decided against buying anything auditory on the grounds that Hellions had taken the unconventional, if novel, step of selling their album in my least favourite music format – cassette. Luckily, my disappointment in not purchasing music was allayed by The Brave taking the stage.

An admirable audience moved from bar to stage to listen to the pleasantly mid-2000s punk club vibe that The Brave had brought. Combining that kind of jerky everyone-hit-now sound made famous by Slipknot with skillfully placed melodies, The Brave have enough talent to set themselves apart from the raft of similar bands. Their set demonstrated a broad aural range that put their album on my ‘to do’ list.

Whilst the venue wasn’t full yet, a lot of the audience appeared to have arrived early specifically to see Endless Heights. It was perhaps surprising, since they took a more straight-forward approach to rock music. The band performed with a playfulness and enthusiasm often lacking when seeing this type of music played live, where hardened stares usually prevail. With layers of driving guitar, these were songs for swaying, and though not well-matched to the sound of the headliner, still earned a much deserved warm reception from the crowd, though no louder than when Sam from Ocean Grove was invited to help for a song.

‘Are you going to be okay?’ asked a guy who moved next to me after the Corner curtains were closed for the headliners to set up. ‘It’s going to get pretty intense down here!’

Once the curtains were opened, any doubt about Opera Oblivia being unsuitable for the stage melted away through the gradual build – in both sound and stage lighting, which brightened with the music – to the final sing-along chorus of album, and set, opener 24.

Through the applause for the opener, the guy from earlier leaned in to shout in my ear. ‘Are you sure you want to stay here?’ he asked me. I asked what he meant. ‘It might get rough from here on in. I thought, at your age, you might not be able to take it.’

That was a first for me, but, I suppose, something I will have to deal with more frequently. Luckily, I’m experienced at this hellionsCornersort of thing, so moved closer to the stage, as a predictably heavier song followed. Nightliner Rhapsody exhibited Hellions’ incredible range, driving the audience from thrashing wildly, to swaying in unison, to a melodic mosh, all within the one song. It was a theme set to continue through the set, with the band clearly enjoying themselves as much as the audience, and particularly lead singer Dre Faivre, who never stopped bounding smiling around the stage.

Daring moments followed, with the instrumental and sample-laden outro of the heavy He Without Sin being a surprisingly effective inclusion, a feat that even the likes of Fightstar might struggle with in a live environment. The main set ended with Thresher, with the band thankfully returning for an encore which nicely bookended the album tour theme with Quality of Life and 25.

HellionsCorner2

It isn’t often that a metal show sees the audience shouting words like ‘axiom’ and ‘cognitive dissonance’ at the stage, but Hellions made their complex and beautifully produced works brilliant in a live setting. The best album of last year could become one of the highlight shows of this year.

Advertisements

They Might Be Giants at the Corner…
May 5, 2013

If not for They Might Be Giants, I wouldn’t have been as successful as I was on television’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in the United States.  It was in a glass-floored studio in California in 2001 when the gameshow’s host let a smug smile slip across her face when she asked ‘Who was the eleventh president of the United States?’ and seemed a little taken aback when some Australian up-start answered correctly, before even being presented with a series of multiple choice answers.

Coincidentally, on the same day that I was fulfilling that particular ambition, I was missing the chance to realise another at home: to see They Might Be Giants live, as their Hi-Fi shows took place while I was out of town.

They Might Be Giants,
Corner Hotel, Melbourne, May 2, 2013…

With this being the first of the shows of the tour to go on sale, and consequently the first to sell out, the Corner was set up in ‘Big mode’ tonight, with the second stage set up for the support act – complete with a theremin front and centre –  and the band room filling quickly after the doors opened.  It was close to a full house when support act Pluto Jonze and his band took to the stage, backed by a vintage television sitting precariously atop stacked crates and displaying various clips and lyrics in synch with his tunes.

It was an impressive support slot which inspired me to look further into the band.  Pluto Jonze seems like a talented multi-instrumentalist, though the aforementioned theramin did seem to be used only for novelty purposes.  Everyone is familiar with their radio single with the Fitter Happier-style Paranoid Android verses, but the rest of the setlist consisted of immediately catchy tunes which sounded a lot like how Hot Chip might if they decided to go for a rockier sound.

The main stage was pleasantly filled with instruments – keyboard, bass clarinet… – as the house lights dimmed to a subdued blue and the five members of They Might Be Giants took the stage, with the infamous Johns doing so to enormous applause.  Opening with something new, it was when the band launched into We’re The Replacements that the crowd were really brought on board, and that excitement remained, particularly when John L strapped himself into the clarinet or his ‘Main Squeeze’ accordian for songs like Meet James Ensor and Dr Worm.

The first of many accomplished guitar solos by Dan Miller – generously celebrated this evening – teased towards any of several song possibilities.  It temptingly drifted in the direction of a rocked-out version of Robot Parade or Istanbul (Not Constantinople), but was actually a distraction whilst the Johns disappeared from the main stage, replaced on the support stage by The Avatars Of They, a puppet band who offered underhanded thanks to the ‘grandpas’ playing as their opening act, before ranting about local politics and performing a Tom Waits-style tune.

After the set by the Avatars, the Johns returned to the stage for favourites like S.E.X.X.Y., Ana Ng and a new song about Dr Tesla (nicely balancing out the group’s apparent pro-Edison slant) before another energetic solo for the real Istanbul which was so powerful it saw Dan break several guitar strings.  The group were called back for two encores, culminating in a sing-along She’s An Angel.

For a band with thirty years of experience and sixteen albums, there was always going to be a whole clump of songs from my wishlist that were missed out live.  On the other hand, this was a show that featured not only some of my favourite songs, but a whole bunch of other things I like, like puppets, robots, and an accordian.

Give me the people who know all the lyrics…
September 20, 2012

As one of the few people I know to still not only purchase albums, but also buy them on CDs, it may come as a surprise for people to learn that I was actually an early adopter of MP3 players, being the proud owner of one of the early models – a stylishly shaped, no-name number – which connected to the computer via the printer port.  I also downloaded a lot of MP3 songs in those days too.  Most of them were the follow-up singles to radio tracks from bands I’d just heard of and kind of wanted to buy the CD, but couldn’t justify on the strength of one song.  This lead me to some great albums… Liam Lynch’s Fake Songs, The New Radicals’ Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, and the self-titled debut album by Wheatus, long with its follow-up Hand Over Your Loved Ones.

When I bring up these well-rounded, perfectly varied albums in conversation, it always ends with someone coming to the eventual realisation ‘Oh, you mean that band with that one song, right?’  It also means that it is unlikely I’ll be able to find someone to take to the show when the artists tour.

Nevertheless, when Wheatus announced a tour, I rushed to the Corner box office the moment the tickets went on sale.

Wheatus,
Corner Hotel, September 19, 2012

I was surprised to see a queue around the block to get in.  Despite this, once the doors had opened, no one was exactly bustling to get to the front of the stage for local support Masketta Fall.  They played a good pop-punk style set, and seemed quite well-known and liked amongst the audience.  A cover of the Killers’ Mr. Brightside was interesting, but didn’t have the dramatic highs and lows it seemed destined to.  Their original tracks, particularly those based on a reggae-style beat, would have been enough to make it a good set without the cover, and show the band to be someone worth looking further into.

Touring support Nova & The Experience were also a pleasant surprise.  I hadn’t heard of them before, but they sounded a little like Angus and Julia might if they ever team up with bis.  The group took to the stage backed by a series of video clips aligned with their performance, but they already had my attention when I saw the stage set up with several guitars, multi-coloured effects pedals, and a piano.  The band may well have overtaken High Side Driver in the running for the Support Act Of The Year award, particularly when they played a song called Mr 95 which could be commissioned as the theme song to the television version of my life, should such a production ever be created.


When Wheatus took to the stage, it was complete with keyboards, back-up chanteuses, and something aptly described by front-man Brendan B. Brown as ‘the bass instrument.’  He wore an MC Lars t-shirt – though the man himself was sadly absent as support on the Australian tour – and reignited the slowly mellowing applause by teasing with a couple of strains from Teenage Dirtbag, before announcing a request-based set that started with Truffles and filled the first half of the show with songs from the band’s self-titled debut record.  It was reassuring to hear a variety of songs being called out other than the band’s hit, but there were some people – even at the front of the stage – asking how anyone knew all the words to the other songs.

Whilst it was great to have heard so many non-album favourites played live, it was clear that BBB knows that his band is remembered by most as a one-hit-wonder. A skilful cover of My Name Is Jonas was perhaps a play on the fact that anyone who brags to their commercial-radio loving friends about their Weezer ticket purchase is inevitably asked ‘You mean that band who played Teenage Dirtbag, right?’  Or maybe I’m reading too much into it, and they just played it because it is a great song.


A request for Punk Ass Bitch was sadly turned down on the grounds that ‘our bass player who we fired wrote that,’ and I wondered if that was perhaps the reason other classics like American In Amsterdam and The Song That I wrote When You Dissed Me were also absent.  Nevertheless, pitch-perfect renditions of London Sun and Wannabe Gangster more than made up for it, and Fair Weather Friend gave the backup singers a chance to show off their own enviable talents.  Even the uninitiated couldn’t resist but to jump around for BMX Bandits.

But it was clear that there was one song that everyone in the room wanted to hear, and it didn’t take long once Teenage Dirtbag started for most of the crowd to jump up on stage and re-enact the scenes from so many decades-old video clips and bounce around unhindered with the band.  That experience in itself may have been well worth the cost of admission, let alone the bonus of shouting along to songs I didn’t think I’d get to hear live again without buying a ticket to New York City.

Originally published in Buzz Magazine.

Fantasy and Ecstasy…
June 7, 2012

Def FX,
Corner Hotel, June 2, 2012

‘Nice gloves,’ said the bouncer when I handed over my ID for him to check.

I thanked him, and realised he was wearing gloves in the same style: a black, fingerless affair, decorated with prints of skeletal knuckles.  A few paces later and I noticed that it must have been a sentiment the bouncer had to echo throughout the night:  Over half of the small crowd were wearing the same gloved, and so too were all but one member of the opening act, Attack Of The Mannequins.

Looking decidedly horrorPunk, Attack Of The Mannequins played an excitingly synth-heavy mix of pub-rock and glam that worked incredibly well.  Despite being the opener and playing onto to a sparse crowd, they achieved that most difficult of accomplishments in prompting patrons to dancing at the front of the stage.  It was also satisfying to see one of those keyboard axes on stage for the first time in a while.

The venue only filled a little more, but already a percentage of the audience were complaining about how late the headliners would be taking the stage, and asking loudly over the bar ‘Who are Insurge anyway?’  It was clear that many in the audience had come just to check out celebrity witch and late-night television personality Fiona Horne, and were being very vocal about it.  Luckily their complaints were drowned out once Insurge did take to the stage.

I was never a huge fan of Insurge.  I’m only really familiar with two of their singles, I Hate Stupid People and AK47, and remembered maybe seeing them at some all-ages thing years ago.  All the memories came flooding back though when I saw the stage being set up with guitars, drums, a laptop and MIDI keyboard, and an assortment of still objects representing the band’s trademark percussion section.  It was evident that many in the audience had come specifically to see Insurge, and their performance was strong enough to have justified this being a double-headline bill.

When Insurge finished, the Corner’s curtain was drawn around the stage, suggesting that something big was being planned underneath.  DJs – apparently members of Caligula – played the kind of music I used to stay up late to see on Rage, which seemed to entertain the still-thin crowd.  As well as Fiona’s fans, it seemed there was a lot of reminiscing going on about the Def FX regional shows of old.  I remembered reading about their wild shows at University O-Weeks while I was in high school, but had never seen the band live before, so I staked out a position at the front of the stage.


The curtains opened to a surprisingly sparse stage, even by Corner standards, but it was immediately enlivened by a mass of blonde braids bouncing on stage, from under which Fiona Horne could be seen, looking no different than I remembered her in the video clips.  Liquidy synth sounds oozed from the speakers before gradually forming into the familiar strains of each song, before being joined by guitar riffs and a polite blend of dancing – not moshing – from the slightly more mature audience.  I’ll Be Your Majick shook things up by making an early appearance, with Crystalise and Psychoactive Summer playing particularly well live.

Def FX introduced me to a style of music I hadn’t heard.  At the time I think we just called it rock with techno beats, but even now that such feats are commonplace, seeing Def FX live was a welcome surprise to the year’s live music radar.

Vengaboys are back in town…
January 15, 2012

In December, during a discussion of music, a colleague lowered his voice, leaned in close to me conspiratorialy and confessed that he would be going to see the Vengaboys at their upcoming tour.

‘But my wife is making me take her!’ he added quickly.

I replied proudly that I needed no excuse, and updated him with the latest rumour that I had heard from reputable sources: that the Vengabus, quite literally, would be coming, stopping at each of the destinations of the tour along with the band. I professed that I would be disappointed if I did not get to go inside – or at least see and be photographed standing by – the Vengabus during the Vengaboys’ Australian tour.

Vengaboys,
Corner Hotel, January 12, 2012

When I arrived at the Corner, I met some people who had purchased ‘VIP’ tickets, apparently from some kind of agency, which included a ticket to the venue from the CBD in the ‘Vengabus’ which apparently allowed them to BYO alcohol before meeting the driver at Young and Jackson’s, and I realised that everyone had been duped.  Vengabus, indeed.  It sounded like little more than some party bus operator making a quick buck.  So I wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t get to see this ‘Vengabus.’

My colleague had given me a piece of gossip of his own.  He’d told me that the support band would be a local group called ‘The Herbs,’ a Spice Girls tribute show.  It was disappointing for me to hear that because I’m not such a Spice Girls fan, and I could think of plenty of local original supports who would have fit perfectly.  Never the less, I was pleasantly surprised to see that The Herbs, complete with sequinned outfits, brought their own style to the songs.  Their covers sounded a bit like how members of the Strokes, Killers and Mars Volta might if they decided to meet in a garage to jam over Spiceworld on mute.  Unfortunately the group’s set was first delayed, and ultimately cut short by what they described as technical difficulties.  Personally, I thought they could have continued without the defective bass drum, but it seemed like the majority of the audience would much have preferred the piped Hits Of The ’90s compilations being played over the PA.

After a little pushing and shoving from people in sailor hats telling me adamently that they actually are a Vengaboy, the rarely-closed Corner curtain opened and the real Vengaboys appeared on stage in trademark costume.  Real, that is, insomuch as this is what we know the Vengaboys to be today – apparently the lead singer is the only remaining member, certainly the boys have been replaced, and was that a replacement backup girl singer too?


As the group broke immediately into song and barely choreographed dance, I wondered suspisciously whether they were lipsynching.  Certainly, they were doing little more than singing along to album versions of their songs.  But as the applause from the first song died down, and Kim stode to the front of the stage to greet the audience – ‘Hello, party people!’ – and leaned forward to reveal dangerous amounts of cleavage, before announcing ‘This is Captain Kim speaking.  Welcome aboard Venga Airways…’ I either convinced myself that they were really singing, or that it didn’t matter if they were only lipsynching.  Everyone was here to dance to the hits.  And they tore through them, barely a word spoken between songs, just how I like it.  If not for the groping on stage, it might have looked like a show for children, with dance-along chants of Up And Down.

It was a fun show, but it left me feeling a little disappointed.  One disappointment was caused by myself.  For some reason, I felt compelled to jump up on stage – something which I have never done.  I was quickly dragged away by security staff, but it nevertheless left me feeling like I’d ruined part of the night for everyone.  Secondly, the merchandise seemed to only come in large sizes.  And finally, my main concern was that the band played for such a short time.  It had been little more than half and hour when they marched off stage, though they immediately returned for a bizare encore, playing Shalala Lala and Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!, which they had already played during the main set.  Whilst I can admit that this was better than playing an overlong set, there were still a few singles that were missed.  Cheeka Bow Bow could have, if nothing else, been used as a reintroduction before the encore, and Forever As One would have broken the dance set up nicely.

That said, these were minor concerns, and I left feeling satisfied that I’d been given what I paid for.  Dancing like an ugly drunk punk to We Like To Party is as fun now as it was in high school.

Originally published in Buzz Magazine.

Shonen Knife at the Corner Hotel, Melbourne, 24/09/2009
September 30, 2009

After I bought my first Shonen Knife CD way back in 1999, the Happy Hour album, I dreamed of some day seeing the band march onto the stage and break into a high-speed rendition of their self-referential introduction song Konnichiwa.  In their first Australian shows since their tour with the 1997 Big Day Out, there was nothing to be disappointed about.  The girls emerged on stage in their matching Supergroup uniforms, proudly waving bar mats that read ‘OSAKA, JAPAN’ like flags, then broke into just the song I’d hoped for.

There was plenty to jump around to in the set that followed, with the all-new Shonen Knife sticking mainly to their most upbeat songs from across their entire catalogue, with a good helping of songs from their latest – a fine thing, since it is a fantastic album.  Muddy Bubbles Hell was a highlight live, as was BBQ Party, with even the audience members who were simply out to sample some new Japanese pop-culture able to join in the ‘Pig out, pig out, pig out!’ sing-along chorus.

The first encore really got everyone moving, not surprisingly their biggest hit, Banana Chips. Once that was out of the way, there was a frightening moment where it seemed to be over too soon. Luckily the girls came back for a second encore, including their Ramones-esque cover of the Carpenters’ Top Of The World, which elicited cheers from the back of the Corner Hotel.