Les Savy Fav, Straight Arrows @ Manning Bar, Sydney (10/2/11)

It’s fair to say Tim Harrington is… unbalanced. Crazy is largely about perspective, admittedly, but he’s so far ahead (outside of?) any curve you care to define that there’s no point trying to dispute it. He’s bat-shit. His nipples are bulls-eyes on a rainbow dart board. He writhes around throwing on an awesome sasquatch poncho thing just for the encore, spitting words and beer and sweat with equal verve. We didn’t stand a chance. But first…

The Straight Arrows play no frills spazz rock and have grown up on a healthy diet of the Ramones and Hüsker Dü, culminating in a fearless, boozy punk. They used to play on the scungy fringes of Sydney’s live scene and have since released several fuzzy 7” records. They didn’t need an intro and didn’t waste their time with one. They exploded on stage, stabbing the fret boards and punching out stripped back songs at ridiculous volume. It was about texture, not content. Loud, abrasive, loose, obnoxious, immature and really, really good. They didn’t need to resort to their half-arsed antics to assert their punkness (or whatever) though. A green streamer and a kick in your band-mates’ pants now and then came off as contrived, which I’m sure is absolutely not in their DNA. The music however was boss, and they knew it.

What Would Wolves Do? was an unlikely opener for New York’s Les Savy Fav, with the clean power pop intro sprouting wings, gaining speed and keeping our attention away from the very large, very colourful, very not on stage man that pushed through the crowd. It’s kind of hard to describe in detail how it all went down from there, suffice it to say the rumours were true. He was a fucking maniac. He defies conventional criticism, and all you can do is relate the experience.

The music was great. Seth Jabour’s impressionistic yet disciplined guitar work was big and hungry, with big numbers like Lips ‘n’ Stuff, Dirty Knails and old school favourite Who Rocks The Party? sounding crunchy and confident. Syd Butler and Harrison Haynes rhythm section were super tight and Haynes in particular sounded like he could bash away all night and not skip a single beat. They played through a really great setlist of their strongest material, and the encore of Sweat Descends remains a pretty wild experience I’ll be thinking about for a while. But flawless execution of top drawer punk aside, the band had to step aside for one of modern music’s great frontmen.

Tim Harrington isn’t a svelte individual. He doesn’t cut an athletic figure, nor is he conventionally attractive. His beard is pretty out of control, and seems to have sucked all the hair from his head to get that way. You’re never sure if he’s present, he never looks at anything in particular, and he has the devil in his back pocket. The crowd threw him out up on stage where he paraded around like a drunk peacock, looking for props (i.e. things not attached to anything). He decided it was a good idea (and it was) to grab a fairly expensive camera from one of the fearless photographers up front, throw him out into the crowd and take his own shots. He grabbed a light from the sound guy’s desk. He spat beer at everyone. He walked all over the bar, like, ALL OVER THE BAR. He rubbed himself a lot. His mic cord was happily fed out by a willing crowd so he could touch some people up the back, inappropriately. He thrashed about; he flailed and sang into his bass player’s crotch. He covered himself in gold paint just for three more songs. And all through this mayhem, he held the whole fucking bar in the palm of his hand. There was nothing he did that didn’t have us losing our minds and he knew it.

To be a frontman of a group like Les Savy Fav is talent enough. The music is a heady mix of thrash, punk, power pop, post-whatever art rock and Harrington’s voice is a nuanced, powerful and venomous instrument in its own right. His ridiculous persona is genius performance art that elevates them from being notorious to being flat out important, and if you EVER get a chance to see them, no matter what your musical bent, step over the unconscious bodies of your loved ones to do it.