Shaken not stirred. The walls of The Hi-Fi were alive with the sound of loud guitar-driven music on Saturday night while the rest of Sydney was off watching the football next door. The music came thick and fast from a slacker trinity of bands offering raw riffs and hot heat and all while they were dwarfed by one massive Marshall speaker stack. At times it was ear-bleeding loud but all of this helped to hit home the message that most music (unless it’s your grandparents’) ain’t designed to be comfortable.

Young upstarts Royal Headache kicked off the night with a heavy, hardcore sound. Their energy bucked and billowed as lead singer, Shogun sung about being real and then being tired while his band mates offered some kick-in-the-teeth punch. Shogun was especially fun to watch as he aped around the stage like Johnny Rotten  and the punks put on what was essentially a bloody good racket.

The first of the tourists – well, these Americans were once in a band called The Tourists – were Red Kross and they were like the headliners in that they straddled the lines between rock and alt-rock. Their stage show was excellent because they had the rock star posing down to a tee. They had an infectious confidence that stood up and thankfully didn’t disintegrate into madness or arrogance.

The quartet was off and racing, jumping and windmilling from early on but ‘Switch Blade Sister’ was a fine if not trashy song that won us all over. They would go on to offer their own ‘Protest song’ and others where the lights and music combined to form what can only be likened to a self-contained thunderstorm. The set only seemed to get better and harder and stronger with tracks like ‘Pretty Please Me’ and ‘Follow the Leader’. They closed with ‘Crazy World’ where the crowd sang along and agreed that this is one mad, old planet that we live on. No one would argue that there was anyone better to observe and pontificate about this.

Red Kross had energy coursing through their veins from their toes to their eyeballs but that kinda thing just ain’t Dinosaur Jr.’s game. The trio shuffled on-stage in such a non-descript way that they could’ve been a group of janitors. J. Mascis took the opportunity to have a quick swig while waiting for drummer, Murph to join Lou Barlow and him.

Opening track, ‘Thumb’ set the bar high as we all watched in awe of Mascis’ adroit guitar playing. It’s something you’d bottle if you could even if Mascis is a man of few words himself. Instead he leaves the music, warbles, distortion and all to do every bit of the talking he needs. ‘The Wagon’ is a good example of this and an early favourite that took us all back to 1990. Mascis is a grey wizard and he was on fire, performing magic with his six-stringed stick.

The last time I saw him perform was as a solo artist at last year’s Sydney Festival. It was a very different experience to The Hi-Fi show. The previous gig was at the auspicious Spiegeltent and the spotlight was on acoustics, loops and effects pedals. Although Mascis would use a veritable gun-rack full of pedals tonight, the volume often won out in the competitive stakes, with a guttural crunch almost spewing over what is some excellent musicianship when you do get the opportunity to pause and think about it.

New song, ‘Rude’ from last years I Bet on Sky record was also offered. It’s a positive testament to a band whose members are all in their late forties and yet are still producing a good array of tunes, one that was kick-started by their stellar comeback record, Beyond. This Barlow-lead track held its own among the new material. But that said, the crowd did kind of loose their collective s**t in ‘Feel the Pain’ and I’m sure I saw a security guard bopping along but don’t quote me on that.

‘Start Choppin’’ would’ve been a great song to end the proceedings with (it does have “Goodbye” in the lyrics after all) but the boys kept us on our toes and dropped it in towards the end of the main set. Another surprise came courtesy of ‘Training Ground’, a cover of a hardcore punk song from when Mascis and Barlow were in Deep Wound together. It was every bit as mighty as you could imagine.

The boys brought the set to a blistering close with ‘Freak Scene’ and ‘Forget The Show’. They did return for an encore and my heart skipped a beat when they played their raucous cover of The Cure’s ‘Just like Heaven’. It was incredibly special while the following, “Sludgefeast” was almost like a musical master class into the intricacies of alt-rock by Mr Mascis himself. And perhaps that’s the best way to sum up the night- you could dance, maybe even sing or slag off to the bar but there’s no question that we can all also learn a thing or two from a bunch of virtuoso slackers. Cool.

Originally published on 29 March 2013 at the following website:

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