The Living End – Gig Review 7th November @ Festival Hall, Melbourne VIC

The Living End

Festival Hall, Melbourne VIC
November 4th, 2023
Supports: Area-7 and The Belair Lip Bombs

Drinking a beer on the train (stay punk) while headed to Area-7 and The Living End at Festival Hall on Friday, something profound suddenly dawned on me. The night wasn’t just about the musical performance itself, but an entire nostalgic and merrily reverent experience that began the second you set out the door.

For me, it was the early 2000’s all over again. A few best mates and some other punk/ska kids on public transport headed to an underage battle of the bands at a town hall somewhere in the suburbs amidst the heyday of Melbourne’s incredibly influential late 90’s/early 2000’s explosion of an alternative youth music scene. We’d pay up to about $12 to see half a dozen local bands and a nationally recognised headliner. Just like the two now-venerated Australian acts us slightly paunchy and wrinklier punters were presently headed to some quarter of a century later. The outcast kids would congregate and form close friendships in safe and inclusive environments, forging a sense of identity and a lifelong love of anti-authoritarian rock and roll along the way. Wearing a self-made “SCOTT MORRISON IS A FUCK HEAD” shirt tonight felt incredibly appropriate considering Festival Hall’s present deed owners (more on that later), and indeed it was.

Anyway, I could write a thousand more words on those nights because – whether you were doing a similar journey to this gig as you once did like I presently was, or not- ruminating on the shape of one’s life when TLE and Area-7 were coming up in the game inevitably conjured a bunch of fond memories from half-ish a lifetime ago out the dappled throngs of your exciting formative years. It was clear once the gig started that the bands felt exactly the same way. This was an entire half a day to reflect and revel in what was probably the freest and happiest times in the sold out crowds’ lives.

Before the two spiritually co-headlining legacy acts fronted the stage, Frankston’s own The Belair Lip Bombs set a fine tone for the night ahead with their unconventionally structured brand of burbling, casual, and subtly anthemic, emotional alt rock. Early Eskimo Joe and a muddle of other influences from Against Me! and The Cranberries to TV On The Radio sprang to mind. A really cool and fairly unique act that was sonically flawless and increasingly exciting as the set progressed. They got the slowly-swelling crowd on side early and maintained the solid vibe throughout. Amidst expressing humble gratitude for the support spot, it was divulged at one point that bassist Jimmy’s favourite band is The Living End. Nice one on making your dreams come true, mate! Great band, go listen, onward and upward from the far eastern shores of mighty Franga for the Lip Bombs.

The first time your humble reviewer saw Area-7 was just before the 2000 Sydney Olympics when they supported Millencolin at an underage gig in the since-bulldozed Metro. I was 12 and Area-7 had already been playing gigs for 6 years. Jump to literally two-thirds of an existence later, and here we are back in the pit to skank our guts out to Australia’s best and most enduring second-ish wave ska band. Let’s not forget there was a time when these guys were top ten in the ARIA charts and playing every major festival and support slot for touring bands for well over a decade. With the seminal trio of guitarist Charles “Chucky T” Thompson, frontman John “Stevo” Stevens and keyboardist David “DJ” Jackson conjured from across the globe and backed by a fairly familiar collection of local horn blowers and spare guitarists to represent the band as originally as possible was a roaring success, to say the very least. Sorry I couldn’t pick who was otherwise original or not due to bad eyesight and the ravages of time. Nothing personal, fellas! The point is, our beloved happy rock champions did themselves and our memories proud with a ripping set of classic after classic.

It’s actually impossible to have a bad time at an Area-7 show. For someone who’s seen the band about twenty-five times over three decades – possibly more than any other band in history – it’s safe to say the energy and positive messages about social awareness and celebrating individuality haven’t wavered a bit. Songs ‘Leave Me Alone’ and ‘Second Class Citizen’ kicked things off, followed by a very extended and audience-participatory ‘Nobody Likes a Bogan’ replete with their new drummer skulling a VB while the rest of the band played the beer’s iconic jingle. Other highlights were the utterly moshable (or fist-pumpable-because-we’re-all-old-with-sore-backs) ‘Let Me Down’, and the one-two-punch of ‘Bitter Words’ and ‘Start Making Sense’ rounded out a rollicking halfa of gleeful nostalgia nicely. Thanks for being around most of our lives, you plentiful ska champions. The band’s history as a unique outfit lasting for so long must be celebrated and respected in perpetuity. Hopefully it’s not too long before they grace a stage – or studio – again soon. If the night’s gig proves anything, it’s that no one’s ever too old for anything and age is only a number. It’s absolutely worth noting the band paid loving tribute to their recently departed drummer Dan Morrison, who’s presence was evidently felt by both bands and their entire support crew. Rest in peace, brother.

It’s no secret that Bible thumping/child sex-offence denying/ happy-clappy Christian cult Hillsong now own the hallowed and historically/culturally significant pile of greasy and beloved brick-and-dust-based filth that is Festival Hall these days. While that isn’t ideal, God’s tax-free money has kept the place from destitution and seemingly beefed up the production values in the otherwise unchanged and murky space my grandpa used to punch darts and watch pro-wrestling at in the mid-60’s. The Living End made a point to recognize this fact early, and politely demand the crowd take back the space for Rock n’ roll. Chris Cheney channeled an evangelist preacher as he bounded about and fervently queried “Do you believe in the power of rock n’ roll!?!?” over and over. Chris is probably the most charismatic, talented, and affable frontman Australia currently has, and a quarter century of gigs has only furthered those traits. He set a ripping tone for the near-hour of non-stop hits deftly placed about playing their seminal self-titled album in full and almost in
order that followed.

Double bassist Scott Owen rarely gets his flowers as the peerless, rapid, spasmodically ingenious beating heart of Living End’s songwriting. That’s no slight on drummer Andy Strachan – I’m a drummer too, sir – but while The Living End’s pulsing, largely rockabilly percussion thumps through the songs like a spine holding the whole show upright, it’s Scotty’s absolutely brilliant, subtle, and perfectly executed expression of multiple genres in each song on an instrument designed for classical use that largely contributes to TLE’s standout sound and presence. And he often does it while either he or Chris are literally balancing on his big ol’ bass like legitimate acrobats. Not bad for the only member of the band that ever had a full-time job (he was briefly a council worker before their debut literally erupted across the planet).

Taking stock of how much time had passed was made no less clear than the brief documentary that was shown on the big screen a few songs in. Beyond these snippets of pimply faced teenagers on the cusp of stardom and other bits of world news from the time (Thredbo landslide, Princess Diana’s death, 1997 et al), each band jovially referenced aspects of live performance and the absorption of music that had drastically changed over the years. Some highlights included us fans knowing the words because we used to pour over the CD booklets, wanting to play The Espy Front bar, and a “shout out to the psychobillies”; such a forgotten sub-genre that was massive for a minute, and what so largely influenced TLE’s self titled masterpiece.

The boys pulled out all the stops, even smashing out some decent pyro throughout, somewhere was a terrified fire warden, for sure. Fuck yeah for leaning right in to the night’s brief and elevating the spectacle while also giving some desperate entertainment niches a much-needed pay cheque in this arid modern climate. Loving an industry back as much as it’s loved you is a paramount way for such a vital part of culture to continue.

There’s no lack of dips or filler to be reported here but highlights amongst constant highlights included opener ‘I Can’t Give You What I Haven’t Got’, back-to-back second album bangers ‘Pictures In The Mirror’ and ‘Roll On’, and the inclusion of crowd favourite, mid-career riff monster ‘How Do They Know’ during the encore. An emotionally charged and extended ‘All Torn Down’ has never rung truer than today amongst Melbourne’s relentless and seemingly unstoppable municipal, commercial, and road-based expansions causing universal stress and havoc to its population. Twenty-five years ago, the band declared: “I’ve seen the city and it isn’t what it used to be / A million houses going up and down in front of me / No time to let the concrete set before it’s just broken up again / Don’t care if it’s just started / don’t really care at all.” At its heart, ‘All Torn Down’ is a powerful anti-capitalist and pro-environmentalist anthem. Despite the entropic arrow of time, songwriting this powerful remains as smart and true as it ever has been.

Speaking of the aforementioned encore once the raucous self-titled worship was done – an acoustic and solo rendition of ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ dedicated to all those we’ve lost along the way opened it. A fucking incredible trio of bluesy, jazzy, punk rock guitar, bass, and drum solos garnished with an ACDC tribute largely occupied it. ‘White Noise’ coupled with more heartfelt thank yous to everyone and anyone in the building penultimately rounded it out, and ‘Uncle Harry’ – the greatest ever sing song about a crazy old relative pissing where they shouldn’t – rounded it out. Cue the confetti and peak limbic resonance as every single punter united to elatedly chant “UNCLE HARRY’S PISSIN’ IN THE BATH! WOAAAH OH! PISSING IN THE BATH AGAIN” in blissful unison. There are few better feelings, and such an energy immediately dispelled all the sore bits that didn’t exist when we were bobbing up and down on Festival Hall’s unforgiving floor for hours in a row forever ago.

The evening’s powerful physical embodiment of a trip down memory lane exceeded all expectations and then some. The message was clear; we were lucky to grow up when we did, live music may be the best ever platform to express emotion and art, and we the crowd have the power to keep it alive solely in our hands. Go to a gig, buy a shirt, and keep this vital backbone of our town and planet’s cultural identity alive. It was all over too soon, so let’s hope these stalwart masters of the scene don’t fully disappear in to the night for good just yet.

Review by Todd Gingell