The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
27th Feb 2014
A brilliant bill of punk and hardcore bands young and old took to the stage at Melbourne’s The Corner Hotel last week to put on a gig memorable for the wrong, the right and the most positively perverse of reasons.
“It’s Byron from some band called Pennywise” shouts the misses. “Hey Byron, what’s up?” I ask, surprised to find him calling the landline, given we’ve never met before. “Marc, we’re in a bind. Can you tell the great fans of Melbourne that Fletcher’s not feeling right, and won’t play well tonight. The gig’s still on, we’ll do our best, it’s a killer line-up, but you should warn the fans about Fletcher…”
After 764 gigs across three decades, ranging from solo acoustic performances to fully fledged festivals, I find myself mentally challenged where this latest gig is concerned. What I expected was nothing to what transpired, and as you’ll read, this gig was no ordinary live music experience.
Melbourne’s Corner Hotel is a refurbished live music stalwart, consistently delivering great shows across the musical landscape. Tonight’s Sidewave gig was almost sold out, attracting around 630 punters (from a rumoured 700 capacity) just two days before the bands will appear at the Soundwave Festival, Australia’s largest punk and metal extravaganza.
Running half an hour behind the published time, the red curtains open to showcase Authority Zero. With a name that sounds incorrect – surely Zero Authority would be better – the Arizona rock quartet power their way through an impressive 30 minute set. ‘No other place’ appears early, and front man Jason DeVore is superb, stalking the stage, singing with passion and talking to the crowd. He calls out “guys we’ve got 12 minutes left to rock you”, launching into ‘No regrets’ and ‘A passage in time’. With excellent sound and terrific backing vocals, Authority Zero provide a terrific and tight opening act tonight, and fire the crowd for the band that follows, Sacramento’s Trash Talk.
Now it’s not often I’m stumped for words, but Trash Talk defy any I can use to describe their music and performance. The band stride out, kick start a song and within 45 seconds it’s over. What? The next song seems even shorter, coming in around 35 seconds. Am I missing something here? Describing themselves as hardcore punk, charismatic singer Lee Spielman effortlessly, and energetically, connects with the crowd up close and personal, delivering all but five or six songs from the safety of the circle pit he creates.
At one point he walks through the exit door while singing, leading 100 odd punters onto the streets of Richmond like the proverbial ‘Pied Piper’, only to return and launch into another song as they frantically attempt to get back in. Lee’s vocal style is hard to hear, and my ears can’t tune into his words, so the only songs I make out are ‘Lepers to feed the lepers’ and ’Sacramento is dead.’ Guitarist Garrett delivers some superb star jumps and kicks, and looks visually similar to the bass player, but they’re not related. Trash Talk exit stage right, leaving me baffled about the performance I’ve just witnessed. Yes, I’ve seen hard and scream core bands before, but none as bizarre as Trash Talk. Not to my liking, but an impressive performance nonetheless.
The crowd swells with mainly middle aged, t-shirt clad blokes who chant ‘fingers, fingers’ in anticipation of seeing the next act. As an aging punk rocker, I bought SLF’s first two L’s, and their first four 45rpm singles, with my paper round money back in the day. But I’ve never seen them live, and deliberately missed their debut Australian tour because I felt the energy, passion and pace of their performance nowadays was different, almost lower and slower in style, since they reformed.
With these reservations in mind, the red curtain reveals Jake Burns latest SLF line-up. There’s a thin bald bassist, Ali McMordie, an original member; a short, washed out looking guitarist; and a happy go lucky drummer, all middle aged in appearance. As an aspiring psychologist, and practising market researcher, it’s hard to be observational without appearing critical, but I’m standing some fifteen feet from the stage and Jake Burn’s still seems enormous. He stands as if inflated with air, almost too busting point, but with immaculately groomed hair!
Resplendent in a country and western red and black shirt, and shiny customised guitar, Jake launches into ‘Suspect Device’ and ‘Wasted life’ before introducing the band. The crowd chant, sing and mosh with delight as the highly infectious ‘Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae’ is played. SLF deliver their songs at a different pace tonight, thus confirming my fears, yet it’s one that allows the crowd to easily sing-a-long with as much gusto and vigour as they can manage.
The band preview a track from their new album ‘No going back’, called ‘When we were young’, before delivering a decent ‘Barbed wire love’ and Jake’s tribute to Joe Strummer, ‘Strummerville’, complete with its ‘Clash City Rockers’ chorus. They conclude the set with ‘At the edge’, ‘Tin Soldiers’ and a lack lust ‘Alternative Ulster.’ Sadly, at this point some dickhead throws a bottle of water at Jake, which explodes on him and his guitar. He’s visibly pissed off, and after a quick wanker sign to said offender he blasts through the last song, all while containing his anger. SLF depart to rapturous applause, having delivered 12 songs in 40 minutes, and while it’s terrific to hear the songs played live, they didn’t quite delight this fan. Perhaps Jake could take a leaf from punk stalwarts the UK Subs, who deliver their material as intended, and not as dictated by age, dress code and body size.
A reasonable time lag transpires before Pennywise take stage around 11:10pm, the crowd spreads out in anticipation of the circle pit that never eventuates, and the band appear primed once the curtains are drawn back. Their traditional introduction is short tonight, and Jim makes no reference to ‘Hi we’re Pennywise from Hermosa Beach California’, which is apt given we all know where they hail from. Pennywise are frequent visitors to our shores, perennial crowd favourites and a band this nation truly adores. In fact, we simply can’t get enough of them.
If Trash Talk were bewildering to watch and describe, then tonight’s performance from Pennywise almost eclipses them, but for different reasons. They launch into ‘Wouldn’t it be nice’, ‘Can’t believe it’ and ‘My own country’ in quick succession, delivering a ‘greatest hits’ set list to maximise their hour long time slot. Fletcher introduces the latter song, and praises the bands from tonight’s bill including SLF, noting that ‘without bands like them, we’d not be here today.’
By now the pit is firing, but not in circular fashion as evident with Trash Talk. As I watch the band over the bobbing heads and crowd surfers, my eyes spy a wheel suddenly rising from someone’s head. Thinking my last beer might have taken its toll, this strange sight is followed by a seat, and finally an entire wheelchair. Said wheelchair is carried head high to the stage, assisted by Jim, and within seconds this scene is accompanied by a bloke’s body. Clearly the owner of said wheelchair, he’s carefully carried by the crowd and reacquainted with his wheelchair, now positioned on centre stage.
The crowd go wild, the band stand amazed and Jim gives the Pennywise ‘VB t-shirt’ clad chap a generous hug, before announcing ‘some people will do anything for a free beer’. He then reveals the band are no longer ‘following the set list’ and introduces a new song, taken from an unnamed and soon to be released album. Called ‘Restless time’, it sounds pop-punk by design, and afterwards Jim explains that the new album will features songs they wrote before the release of ‘Pennywise’.
I spy a bottle of vodka on Fletcher’s amp, which was there before the gig kicked off, and its remaining content is soon emptied by the man himself, quickly followed by the beer that sat alongside it. This action signals the demise of tonight’s performance, as things get truly wild and the band’s guitarist goes ‘off the rails’. For the uninitiated, Fletcher is a big bloke who loves to rock, play fast, drink, rock, shout, drink, abuse people he doesn’t like, drink, give praise to the bands he likes, shout, rock and drink. As Jim repeatedly calls for the band to play ‘Down under’ – or ‘Land down under’ as he calls it – and the crowd salivate at the prospect of hearing Australia’s unofficial national anthem being played, Fletcher takes matters into his own hands. Strumming the chords to ACDC’s ‘TNT’, he seems to zone out and play solo, strumming, singing and ranting, before throwing his guitar into the crowd and walking off stage.
Jim encourages the return of said guitar, Fletcher reappears and promptly throws it back to the crowd. By now five minutes has passed, the band appear in turmoil, the crowd cry for more and Fletcher is being consoled, or counselled, by a bald chap who he reveals to be the manager. A security guard also gets involved, trying to calm him down and progress the set.
Fletcher then hugs Jim, the guitar is retrieved and the chaos continues as Fletcher returns to playing ‘TNT’. He’s completely off his face, and possibly off the planet, and what seemed like a good laugh at first soon grates on the crowd, and possibly his band mates, as they patiently attempt to get their set back on track. Interestingly, neither Randy or Byron say a word as this transpires, all while Jim remains diplomatic with both Fletcher and the crowd. ‘Down under’ finally appears, to the delight of the crowd, and with Fletcher apparently back on track, ‘Pennywise’, ‘Fuck Authority’ and the superb ‘Broken’ are belted out. Sadly, as I listen I find Fletcher’s guitar playing to meander between correct chords and ad hoc noise, before they kick into ‘Every single day’.
On stage, the band appear visibly divided. Jim, Byron and Randy want to finish the set, but all Fletcher wants to do is fuck around, or fuck off, or both. Jim announces that ‘we’ll play better at Soundwave’ before launching into ‘Bro Hymn’, and it’s here Fletcher finally implodes. He raises the guitar and smashes it into three pieces, lifts the broken pieces high in the air and exits stage right, all while the band continue with ‘Bro Hymn’. Jim is now joined on stage by five or six fans, one of whom is offered Fletcher’s mike stand, by the man himself. Said fan screams in a key only known to himself, the song concludes, Pennywise depart and the crowd madly cheer and scream for more. Sadly, there’s no time for an encore, the lights come up and given Fletchers state of mind, there’s probably no guitarist available to deliver one, even if they had time. Afterwards, at the mixing desk, my mate Michael meets the soundboard tech, and he informs us that “it’s been some time since he (Fletcher) has destroyed a guitar on stage.”
Shortly after the gig, the bands FB site begins to receive criticism from fans. “How about another Melb show to make up for the shitful performance tonight?” one punter states, while another goes straight to the heart of the matter. ”U cunts sucked at Melbourne, Fletcher u fat cunt I want my money back.”
Clearly not every fans a happy camper, but tonight we witnessed a decent and unusual gig. By and large, Melbourne fans are a forgiving lot, and given the numerous fine performances Pennywise have delivered over the decades, the great majority of us will forgive them. Only once, and only this time…
All words by Marc Brekau. More writing by Marc on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.