The Mess Hall, Regular John @ Annandale Hotel, Sydney (13/7/12)
Some bands require an abnormally momentous build-up to their arrival on-stage, as though their entire careers ride on that very moment. Others, however, need little more than a quick sound-check, a blare of feedback and a single utterance of their name – in this instance, ” Regular John.” After a length sabbatical from live performing, the Sydney collective felt fresh and engaged with their performance this evening – almost as if they were rediscovering exactly what it was about playing live that had enthralled them so much to begin with. Although rusty in parts – vocalist Ryan Adamson was so excited at times that he knocked his power adapter out of its socket – the band quickly became focused when it came to showcasing some new material from their long-awaited second album, Strange Flowers. Although the newer material circulates more within the band’s psychedelia influences as opposed to their four-on-the-floor rock sensibilities, it still managed to rouse interest within the audience; particularly when it would detour unexpectedly to some delightfully weird places. If they can capture the energy conveyed with this performance in the recording of Strange Flowers, they may well be sitting on a monster of a rock album. Contemporaries and peers, you have been warned.
All has been quiet on the Mess Hall front for quite some time now, with the members moonlighting in other bands (notably as the rhythm section in Noah Taylor’s Sloppy Boys) and even working on film scores. As interesting as their other projects have been, there’s just still something so exhilarating about watching Jed Kurzel take to his guitar and Cec Condon take to his drum-kit, kicking out electric blues jams like nobody’s business. With tonight’s show being billed as their only one for the year, it was clear from the get-go that the two were determined to make the set count. They had nothing to be worried about, of course. Truth be told, they could have left the stage after their monstrous one-two combo opener of Do It Again and Disco II and it would have sufficed. The dynamic duo shifted almost immediately into overdrive and barely stopped for breath in the hour that followed.
Although the band didn’t trial any new material across the evening, the band still accounted for fans from all points of their career. For the older fans, hearing the rollicking Shake Shake felt just as invigorating and down-and-dirty as it did back in 2003. Meanwhile, cuts from their latest effort, 2009’s For the Birds, presented a darker and more groove-oriented take on the band’s style; exemplified by the slithering Bare. Kurzel fleshed out his sound with sequencers, loop pedals and even some bass pedals, notably adding a stomping, layered rhythm to Devil’s Elbow cut Pulse. His use of multiple guitars brings out an array of tones and styles, from snarling post-punk in the vein of Andy Gill to metallic blues licks. It’s a versatile and downright mean sound he gets out of those six strings. Meanwhle, Condon remains one of the most effortlessly cool drummers this country has produced this century, flinging his body about the kit with the greatest of ease. Note that the use of the term “effortlessly cool” is in no way related to the effort he puts into the actual drumming – his hi-hats sing like birds, his snare drum sounds like an arcade-game uppercut and his bass drum sounds like a giant making its way towards you.
An accidental finish on their big single Keep Walking might have come across as embarrassing to the band a few years ago, but with their seasoned levels of performing it was all taken in great humour; allowing the duo to jam out the song’s all-business chorus a couple of times more. The encore brought out the big guns (pun intended) with Lock and Load, a song introduced by Kurzel as one that they always play at the Annandale but never rehearse. You couldn’t tell, though: this pounding, guttural head-thrasher is a shining example of not only the kind of great music the band themselves are capable of, but the kind of music that has kept the Annandale itself from going under. You can’t kill live Australian rock music when it spits out venom like this. Tonight, The Mess Hall had nothing to prove; and yet it was with this mindset that they proved just what a force they can be under this name in the live department. See you in 2013, gents.