Sunday, September 13, 2009

Headless Chickens live in Melbourne, 2008 (review)

w/ support Hercules In New York & Mission Control
(venue: The Hi-fi Bar)

With the possible exception of Bondi, it’s pretty unusual to find the ratio of a 20-1 Kiwi/Aussie audience in Australia. Sure enough though, at Auckland’s most adored band’s surprise reunion show, those were the stats. The mullets were many and the vowels were strained in a room modestly filling out with the band’s homeland devotees. The first support act, Hercules in New York played their short electro-rock set to a very minimal audiences but like any good band, played as though it were a capacity festival crowd. Unusually, the drummer is positioned front and centre stage and the bass amp is up to bowel bothering pitch. The playing is fierce and tight but it seems the sheer volume is what’s keeping a potential crowd huddling around the bar and merch stall. Mission Control have a slightly more cock-rock approach and quite frankly look hot enough to fry an egg on. Song wise, they come in on the same bus as Galvatrons. It’s a high energy start to the night. Now the supports are over, there’s feverish crowing in anticipation of Headless Chickens first Melbourne show in 15 years. Several fans here tonight remember that last show and the looks on their faces give away the devastating joy which we are about to experience.

As one by one the band enter the stage, the front row show their love with some frantic chicken ‘Bok-book-urk’s’. Sounds like someone’s laid an egg in excitement before a single note has even been played. To kick-off they launch straight into the anthemic Donka from rare debut LP Stunt Clown. It’s such a treat to hear brilliant songs like this and Railway Surfing brought back from (almost) obscurity. The dream set-list continues with Cruise Control, where vocalist Fiona McDonald gets to unleash her ethereal voice over a particularly grimey, power-riff version of the group’s biggest hit in Australia.

The set focus is mainly on the hit-making Body Blow period, the only album that featured McDonald throughout. Room however is still left for some of leader Chris Matthews’ post & pre-Fiona tracks such as the psychedelic, guitar heavy Monkey Jar and Cyclic. He is in his element with these less ‘poppy’ pieces but surprisingly, likes to throw in a bit of blues guitar here and there. (I thought he was anarchy!) Chris and Fiona share vocals on most of the material tonight, and rarely is the duo-magic as awesome as it is on Mr Moon. The vocal mics however are just a little too quiet causing the music to sometimes drown out those gorgeous notes but then there’s never a concert without at least one problem. The sight of a techie frantically doing stuff to a guitar pedal is nothing most of us haven’t seen before and tonight is no exception. It’s OK though, Fiona fills in on the mic while some unknown problem is being sorted. “Anyone know any good jokes?” She asks sheepishly. Without waiting, she ads “Alright, I’ll tell one – Two buckets of vomit are walking down the street, they pass a gutter – one says to the other – that’s where I was brought up!” It was good, in a you-had-to-be-there way and she gets kudos as comedy is much harder than music.

It’s midway through the set now and every song is received with wild cheers of approval. They go for back-to-back favourites from this point. The bitter-sweet Juice is sounding as fresh as ever and the colossal Million $ Dream may have been the strongest performance of the night. Then comes Gaskrankinstation and you can just smell the oil as they whip it up into the suburban horror show that it is. By now everyone is jumping and arm waving like lunatics and singing back to the band. They’ve bought us into the eye of the storm and choose that - the perfect moment - to throw in hyper ball-tearer, Donde Esta La Pollo (Where Is The Cock). Up until now, second guitarist Ant Nevison had been barely visible at the back of the stage. He gets the warmest reception as he takes the lead vocal mic for the rap on this Spanish/English party banger.

The passing of time has in no way impaired their notoriously wild live shows. There’s no chance to catch your breath as they fly straight into Choppers, one of Chris’s best vocal tirades – Shouts militantly: “Kill the fat controller! Pray to a new god!” Drummer Bevan is beating the crap out of his kit, the guitars are like a hurricane and soaring above it all is Fiona weaving her sweetly sung “Oh, I can’t believe my ears…” line through the mad racket. The crowd are senseless with joy. We want them to get louder and go further and gallop through the freakin’ room. George is next and a sure sign the end is close. This was their only NZ number 1 single and the last release with Fiona on vocals. It’s a heavy, trip-hoppy piece reminiscent of Curve or even PJ Harvey. The mood shifts in the room, but they still have us in the grip. There’s no waiting for the encore, barely 2 minutes goes by and the band re-emerge launching straight into the groovy, moody Do The Headless Chicken. Watching them exit the stage, it’s hard to believe it’s over. Something was missing. They played all the favourites, the show was magnificent, but the sad knowledge that this was just a one-off was hanging there. It’s time to miss them all over again.


HI-FI BAR SET LIST 04/12/08: 
Railway Surfing
Cruise Control
Monkey Jar
Mr Moon
Totalling Dads Car
Million $ Dream
Donde Esta Le Pollo
Do The Headless Chicken

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