Live Review – Royal Headache, Brisbane 2012
News posted Tuesday, August 28 2012 at 02:00 PM.
Related: Royal Headache, Kitchen's Floor.
Valhalla Muay Thai Stables, Brisbane
Saturday, August 25
by Max Easton
Shogun is shirtless and pacing along the edge of a Muay Thai ring in the heart of Fortitude Valley, shrieking into a dozen sweaty faces that clutch the ropes for support from the rising mosh pit behind them. His band, Royal Headache, shift up a notch and someone leaps from the turnbuckle. They halt between songs and the mosh pit staggers, drenched in a seemingly constant stream of free beer that showers the front rows throughout the night. The band kicks in again, and a few hundred Brisbane youths are sent flailing over the ropes or belted into one of the dozen boxing bags that litter the venue's edges. This is more than just a free gig backed by a sneaker company – this is Royal Headache providing a city with reprieve from its ailments.
Brisbane is in a fragile state at the moment. Following 2010's floods, Queensland voters dumped the Labor government in favour of the first set of conservatives (excluding a single Nationals term in the late ’90s) since Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen's infamous 20-year reign. In this cash-strapped post-flood economy, new premier Campbell Newman then began his veritable prison-shanking of the budget.
Newman cut 40,000 jobs from the public service Newman is reportedly in the process of cutting a projected 20,000 jobs from the public service and, if you linger long enough to soak up the drunken vitriol in the Muay Thai stables, generally gave the finger to every policy that provided any form of social or moral comfort to the people of Queensland. The lingering memory of Queensland's period of irrationally right-leaning policy has always stained Brisbane's image, and tonight it's hard not to see the crowd as fed up, distant and vaguely unsettled.
"This city is fucked," I'm told by a girl who plans to cut her losses and escape to New York rather than try to find work alongside the rest of her axed peers. Another guy, just sacked from his first job in the public service, is unemployed, nigh on broke and stacking the night's free beers in a row in the corner just in case the supply runs dry. And just to press his point, Newman labelled the cut to the job force as akin to discarding dog shit on the very night of this show. People are on edge from the start, releasing it all the moment Royal Headache take the stage. “Take pity on us,” Shogun shrieks, and his audience throws themselves at each other in response.
After an hour of this, I walk away with someone else's blood on my shirt.
The whole event is a weird mess of somehow appropriate contradictions. It's sponsored by a shoe company – as if the media team assembled, consulted with police and then intentionally crafted an assembled slice of anarchy. Regardless, it's genuinely unhinged. There's a single line to the men's for the only toilet bowl available. Once the free booze starts flowing and the line gets desperate, a smaller line sheepishly forms behind the change-room shower. Out in the main room, people are openly staggering, grabbing at the growing rows of beer that the bartenders rush to open in time to meet the sea of outstretched hands. There's a guy in a suit doing lines from a windowsill in full view of security, who seem concerned only with making sure nobody is passing out in the dark corners of the room. (Which would make for a bad photo on the website.) Band members were given free sneakers by the company in question and were asked to wear them on stage. When Kitchen's Floor's bassist abides, it may well be the purest shade of white that has ever been in that boxing ring.
You have to wonder what Bjelke-Petersen would think of this new Brisbane. A place where a new Liberal-National government cuts savagely at longstanding leftist legislation, yet essentially plays host to a commercially-funded, police-sanctioned replica of a savage warehouse show by The Saints. Hosting around 300 newly gypped youths, all covered in each other's sweat and spilled beer, watching Kitchen’s Floor revel in poverty-stricken desperation. For all the ferocity Royal Headache stir in the crowd later tonight, the Brisbane locals feed this rising tension with their soulless, dead-hearted punk. Few people look as devastated fronting a crowd as Matt Kennedy and, among the gritty imagery that surrounds him, it all seems appropriate.
Shogun paces in silence before blankly saying, "Alright, let's do ‘Surprise’.” His band kicks straight into it without a second thought. They're pretty much just dropping hit after hit – new and old – and the crowd's reception is steadily maniacal across it all. 'Girls' is probably one of the most powerful renditions I've ever seen Royal Headache deliver, while unreleased track 'Stand and Stare' already feels completely at home in their live set.
“This is as much about seeing one of 2011's most exciting breakthrough bands as it is an hour-long catharsis.”
The infamous reluctance of Shogun as frontman is absent tonight, trading his simmering angst for a genuinely enthused grin. Across the set, the crowd never lets an individual song interrupt the steady thrash of bodies. It may be broken up by songs, but as a whole this is as much about seeing one of 2011's most exciting breakthrough bands as it is an hour-long catharsis. I don't know if there's a more appropriate place than a Muay Thai stable to kick off some pent-up aggression, and I can't think of a more appropriate band in the country to soundtrack it.
The bar switches from beer to water as Royal Headache end on the relatively dulcet 'Honey Joy', the stables emptying into the streets to face a wall of about two dozen police and 'night chaplains', all of whom face the alleyway exit in a shockingly bright line of fluoro yellow. It's the kind of wall that could only ever exist in the realm of Brisbane's mythology, but as much as the new right-wing government makes it feel like a regression back to old police habits isn't off the cards, this isn't 1978. Their batons stay holstered, the peace keepers instead timidly observing a drunken mess of three hundred get injected straight into the heart of the infamously violent strip of Fortitude Valley.
(Photos by Rick Clifford)