Live Review – Royal Headache, Altamont 2012
News posted Wednesday, April 11 2012 at 10:00 AM.
Related: Royal Headache, Soma Coma, Nintendo Police, Straightjacket Nation.
w/Soma Coma + Nintendo Police + Straightjacket Nation
The Gasometer, Melbourne
Sunday, April 8
(Photos courtesy Christina P)
A free, “secret” show for zeitgeist-straddlers Royal Headache, held in the relatively intimate surrounds of inner-north favourite the Gasometer. Last year’s “list-approved” self-titled LP has rung out many times over this pub’s speakers. This could, and perhaps should, have been gig of the year stuff. So why wasn’t it?
Soma Coma, Nintendo Police and Straighjacket Nation are hardcore bands. If Royal Headache had not been crow-barred onto their bill, this would have been its own fucked-up little night. Instead, their inclusion saw a combustible coming together of scenes and crowds. The devoted few and the curious but nonetheless enthusiastic masses. Certainly for any tourists not intimately familiar with gigs of a hardcore persuasion, this made for a confronting cultural safari.
So for most, this was a pretty rough gig; all shoves and elbows, blood and beer sweat. The night’s first two sets saw stage dives and several leaps from the walls and speaker-stacks by the frenetic throng at the foot of stage. Both Soma Coma and Nintendo Police brought with them short, sharp bursts of tinnitus-inducing screams backed by competent rhythm sections, who each would nail a groove, only to then come to a complete halt just after the one-minute mark.
Straightjacket Nation were something else entirely though. Lead singer Daniel Stewart had previously observed proceedings from behind the bandroom’s unmanned bar. I had looked over his way a few times, secretly hoping that he and the rest of Total Control would spontaneously appear and bring something a little more considered or sedate to the stage. Instead, his arrival sparked utter chaos. More elbows, more shoves and certainly, more blood. Particularly from Stewart’s face. A blood nose and a cut to the cheek saw it streaming down his face. The more it poured, the more he grinned. That grin.
Suddenly he looked like the most terrifying, most vital man likely to take a stage in this city. He paced, contorted and wailed through bouts of seizures. No detached monotonal murmurings or synth-punk explorations here. Just a ferocious energy that defied anyone to challenge him. And is that Al Monfort’s bass driving this band? He seems a long way from Dick Diver and Lower Plenty.
A rallying cry of “fuck the hipsters” rang out from one woefully ill-advised individual. It was met with bemusement by Stewart, but there was an enthusiasm in some to leave an imprint on anyone who was there purely to see Royal Headache. At one point I push back, only to be hopelessly flung into the mesh and thrash of bodies. Somehow within seconds, I am on my hands and knees on the Gasometer floor, in the most unholy of positions on Easter Sunday, shirt stretched over my head. And yet, there’s still an inherent good nature or at least, distorted sense of manners to this sort of physicality that means I’m immediately hoisted back up by the very sets of hands that thrust my pathetically ill-equipped body to the ground. At least the squat frame of Marcus from the UV Race seems to be faring a little better on the other side of the pit.
Just as the Gasometer’s quaint fairy lights have long been torn down by stray arms and legs, the night’s initial electricity has almost entirely been expelled. Even though everything has been building up to Royal Headache’s arrival, I feel like it can only really go down from here. With no more plastic cups, beer is swilled straight from jugs as we watch Shogun harangue the sound desk. It seems a bit pedantic for a band with such an all-in, rough-and-ready aesthetic. But he’s cut something of a brooding and discontented figure throughout the night, having complained earlier about the sound while onstage as part of Nintendo Police. Perhaps it’s just tiredness; they had played Boogie the night before, and a Sydney show a few days before that. And this is a last minute free show, so we’re lucky just to have them, right? Except, this band has come to mean something to people. Quite a lot of people at that. We expect something exceptional from them. We want to hold them to a high bar.
‘Really In Love’ is hurried through to open the set in a “get the hit out of the way” fashion. With little deference to band performing, Daniel Stewart crosses the stage in between songs to watch the set alone, slouched against the side wall. I’m a little concerned by how often my gaze returns to see what he’s doing over the course of the set. ‘Girls’ has all the paroxysmal energy you would hope, but an indifferent airing of ‘Down The Lane’ sees it fail to be the unifying moment it might otherwise have been.
Seeming mindful of the night’s precursory hardcore flavour and perhaps the looming spectre of Stewart behind him (or am I reading too much into his presence?), Shogun sounds almost apologetic when introducing a “really pop” new song. Elsewhere, the “this has been our pleasure” line in ‘Pity’ has scarcely sounded less sincere.
The set’s somewhat premature end is brought about with a sigh and a look of frustration from Shogun. Royal Headache have been mostly enjoyable and always physically close, but never immediate. The line-up may have been reflective of the company the band keep, but it wasn’t a good fit. Scores of bruised indie-kids file out of the Gasometer’s doors into the night, knowing they’ll tell their friends they were here, but I’m not convinced that every one of them would do it all again.
by Jeremy Story Carter