Def FX @ The Corner Hotel, Melbourne (02/06/12)

The ‘90s band revival explosion has reached a fever pitch of late, and for all the cash-in on nostalgia overtones, some genuinely great acts have happily bounced back from near-obscurity. Sydney-based one-time Triple J favourites The Clouds made a cracking return last year while Tumbleweed are currently drawing the biggest crowds of their career, but not every come-back works as well as the band in question maybe expects.

In the early ‘90s, Def FX’s live shows were notorious, out of control orgies of nudity and instrument trashing putting them squarely on the ‘must see’ list. When plans to bring the band back to the stage began circulating over a year ago, it was almost a no-brainer that this would be one not to miss. Anticipation may have not have been as high as Def FX front-woman, Fiona Horne expected, with the singer taking it upon herself to promote the reunion almost single-handedly which included defending a new line-up, with herself and bassist Martyn Basha being the only original members taking part.

Sadly, the long build up to Def FX’s show – including all that self-promotion – instead of creating a buzz, ended up looking a little desperate instead. Follies like offering priority tickets and a rather pricey meet and greet was perhaps also a poorly thought out move, as the Corner Hotel is well under capacity tonight. These factors should have set off alarm bells, but it’s the rather bored looks on the audience’s faces that is the most telling. Def FX, only four songs into their headline set, and the realisation hits that something was seriously wrong on stage. Firstly, their sound mix is absolutely abysmal. Relying heavily on pre-recorded tracks, with which guitar, bass and vocals struggle to meld, often means gaping chasms exist between the synths and the live instruments. Crushingly, a tinny, pre-recorded backing vocal only highlighted Fiona’s out-of-breath and pitchy singing.

Fiona’s lively movements and massive dreadlocked hair cannot distract from the hollow, midi-drum beat which is the final undoing of Def FX as a live act in what should have been a triumphant return. Frustratingly, here is a band who have an amazing back catalogue of work, yet who are content to get by on their name rather than their former reputation to put on amazing shows. What should have been set highlights, Surfers Of The Mind, Psychoactive Summer, Crystalise, No Time For Nowhere and I’ll Be Your Majick came off limp and unfulfilling. The band’s best songs still sound dynamic on CD. Def FX were the ‘sound of now’ in their time so making the live transition tonight, with the many advances in audio reproduction, should have been kick ass. However, all of the things that Def FX lacked, support act Insurge brought in spades to their all-to-brief thrill ride of a show.

Few support bands I’ve seen slaughtered the headline act with the grand style Insurge display tonight. Everything about the Sydney-based industrial rockers sounds fresh and urgent, with none of their politically-themed songs showing signs of having dated. Live Insurge recall everything from Big Pig, to The Prodigy to Manic Street Preachers while remaining largely non-derivative. Singer Chris Dubrow’s voice roars above his band’s clatter-percussion and synth storm of memorable singles, Speculator, I Hate Stupid People and Political Prisoners. What’s striking though is how no real effort is required to just enjoy the band’s set and watch them working so well together and loving it, again setting them apart from Def Fx who looked bored and rigid by comparison.

Insurge along with opening act, Attack of the Mannequins and DJ Ash (ex-Caligula frontman) provided solid, retro tinged sets between them in a show that should have been aided by the addition of Def FX rather than let down. I still love their songs, damn them, and more than anything I wanted to see the band succeed after 15 years away, but the reality is Def FX showed little care for their songs or their fans, which made it very hard to care about them in return.