Brisbane Hotel, Hobart TAS
January 19th, 2018
Support: Bennylava & The Prickly Grapes
EDITOR’S NOTE: if you’re sensitive to profanity, this review likely isn’t the place for you. But then again, presumably, neither is listening to Frenzal Rhomb.
In a move that has been unilaterally panned by my contemporaries as one of the most confusing I’ve ever made, I emigrated from the sunny bosom of Queensland’s pristine capital, Brisbane, to… well, there’s no other way to say it: Hobart.
Not to let myself stay off the horse too long and knowing Wall of Sound had no presence down here, I was keen to stay covering gigs. After a back and forth between myself and (WoS owner) Browny featuring a litany of interrogations such as, “what”, “why”, and, “no really, why”, the deed was done.
I guess, then, it’s fitting that my first assignment in my new, very confusing home would be Frenzal Rhomb at the Brisbane Hotel.
These boys aren’t new by any stretch – even gestating foeti are at least aware of them and how long they’ve been challenging the zeitgeist of mainstream rock in Australia. While they’ve been through a series of line-up changes over the years, this latest incarnation has stuck around for by far the longest (even though bassist, Tom Crease, is still referred to as “the new guy”). The effect of that is that their brand of “get fucked, we’re doing what we want” really hasn’t changed since before some of you reading this were born.
Now, the Brisbane Hotel is such a surreal space to find yourself. It’s somewhere between a typical, blue-collar pub, combined with a 1970s punk bazaar. There’s graffiti adorning most surfaces (including a feature wall in the main band room behind the bar), pinball machines (such as the ever-loved AC/DC one), and a bathroom that looks like it was lifted from CBGBs at the height of punk rebellion. Overall, a perfect home for a group self-described as “the most hospitalised band in the world” – a fact that incidents such as vocalist, Jay Whalley, having a pigworm in his brain (a malady documented in the imaginatively-named jingle, “Pigworm”) certainly doesn’t disprove.
To pad out the evening a bit, they brought along two local groups (I say “local”; in Tasmania terms, they may as well have been from the Moon) – openers The Prickly Grapes, and Bennylava.
The Prickly Grapes are a four-piece of relative newcomers, being staffed by some absolutely tops guys to shoot the shit with. Don’t let either of those facts deceive you, however. These boys play hard. They play fast. And, they play loud. So much of all of this in fact that their instruments were sacrificed to the rock gods no less than twice, being met with a cappella interludes and/or rhythm-section- backed slam poetry to quell the swollen crowd. Their sound is a difficult one to place; it’s full of loud, shrieking riffs, funky bass interludes, and driving drums, all topped off with a quasi-barking vocal effort on top. All in all, an admirable set. I look forward to seeing them as their sound matures.
Up next were local hotshots, Bennylava. They’re no strangers to the Frenzal boys, having recently spent three days in Jay’s studio recording their latest piece (an experience that Jay later describes as “fucked”). These boys are about two things and two things alone: playing hard-arsed punk rock, and telling people to get fucked while doing it. Their sound is exactly like what you’d imagine of such a set of working parameters. Amongst a set of tunes which had the majority of the crowd screaming the words back at the boys, several really got the room moving. Two stick-out moments were, “Fuck You Mr. Harris”, a ballad directed at one Rolf Harris, and “Where The Fuck Was Harold?”, pondering the mysterious, years-long absence of Harold from the TV soap Neighbours.
The set wasn’t without its own technical difficulties, however. Broken strings seemed to be the theme of the night, with two solutions coming to the fore: playing without the string, and more imaginatively, “borrowing” (read: taking) one of Lindsay McDougall’s guitars out of the side of the stage area.
Overall the crowd seemed to enjoy the experience, and I’m compelled to agree. Definitely an amusing set.
An intermission falls across the crowd, and I decide it’s time to empty the what-is-by-now several litres of water I’ve consumed this evening. If you’ve ever tried to relieve yourself in a near pitch-black toilet stall with a bottle in one hand and a camera in the other, you know where this is headed. That, for the uninitiated, is the sunny side of $10K of camera in the toilet. FUCK. The good news is that it still works. The bad news is that my weapon of choice is now covered in what seems like every bodily ablution imaginable. Onwards and upwards, we’ve got a gig to cover!
Back in the band room, there’s a bunch of 1980s power ballads being played to calm the crowd. Over the intermission serenade of Foreigner’s seminal, “I Want To Know What Love Is”, a guitar starts to carry on a riffed interpretation of the song. “Is this a sound check? What?” Suddenly, Lindsay meanders onstage, and he replaces the now- faded-out track with his own solo rendition of the work – complete with an almost tearful strain towards the high notes. This, it seems, is what the start of a Frenzal show is like.
After a brief silence, the rest of the band emerge as if some kind of shitty chrysalis has been ruptured, and the set as a four-piece is swiftly underway. With that, it doesn’t take long before the crowd has reached a fever pitch, swelling back and forth in all directions in a bodyslamming, cacophonic, Sturm und Drang of punks and drunks.
It quickly becomes apparent that this may not be the easiest show to shoot. The Brisbane’s band room has no press pit to speak of – and why would it; comfortably housing twelve or so patrons under normal circumstances doesn’t lend itself to that – so I seek refuge in a corner, hugging a speaker stack MacGyvered together with ratchet straps, rather than having my gear befall a similar fate to the intermission once more.
The set is full of a variety from their now fairly extensive back-catalogue, stretching back as far as Coughing Up A Storm, and as recently as their latest release, with tracks like its lead single, “Cunt Act”. The crowd know the words of everything back-to-front, and with all of the grace and coherence of a room full of various states of inebriation, are screaming them back at the band.
One of the best bits of the show is that the guys really don’t take themselves or what they’re doing especially seriously. I don’t mean that in the they’re not actually interested in playing or proficient in doing it way, more that they’re willing to fuck about and treat the gig as an opportunity to do what they enjoy doing, rather than what they’re obliged to do. In realistic terms, it’s four blokes on stage doing what they’d be doing hanging out anyway. The banter is great – we’re treated to discussions of “shelving” (the act of inserting drugs into one’s rectum) in segue to the new track, “I’m Shelving Stacks (As I’m Stacking Shelves)”, “filthy hippies” and magic mushrooms to introduce, “I Went Out With A Hippy & Now I Love Everyone Except For Her”, and their former tour manager relieving them of $5500 of their hard-earned. It’s fairly obvious that Jay and Lindsay have spent the last decade having bants professionally on the various media platforms they’re veterans of.
Another thing that sets the set apart from many is that they take requests (to then disappoint the yelling punters when they only play the first verse of tracks like “Run”), and do deliberately over-the-top, impromptu cover versions of songs including John Farnham’s, “Take The Pressure Down” (achievement unlocked: Whispering Jack reference in a punk show review).
They tear through a number of old favourites, such as “You Can’t Move Into My House” (affectionately known to the initiated as “Get Fucked You Fucking Fuckwit”), and “Genius”, accompanied by a cadre of now- essentially fight-dancing showgoers throwing their best attempt at in-time lyrics (and beer) back at the stage and each other.
They close the set out with “Punch In The Face” – their 9th-ish “encore” for the evening. The crowd slowly disseminates, and the deed is done. We all stumble out into the streets of Hobart to be greeted with a brisk air that Hobart is so known for, and make our way through the night.
We’ve just seen a Frenzal show, and it’s a pretty bloody good way to spend a night in a city that is otherwise fairly quiet once the sun goes to bed.
The Prickly Grapes
Frenzal Rhomb – Hi-Vis High Tea Tour