Live review: SHIHAD at HiFi Bar, Melbourne, September 6 2012
By STEVE MASCORD
IN these days of concert tickets and merch, rather than physical music sales, being the prime income for most bands, experimenting with setlists is rampant. Some acts are playing classic albums in full, with a ‘greatest hits’ encore, while others are revisiting their entire back catalogue – in chronological order – on a single tour.
Shihad, in supporting their Meanest Hits compilation, aim to sum up an entire two-decade career in one show. It’s a lofty aim, no doubt – and tonight at the HiFi the Wellingtonians achieve the aim spectacularly.
Beginning with rampant thrash off the 1990 Devolve EP, Jon Toogood, Karl Kippenberger, Phil Knight and Tom Larkin take us on a journey that actually charts the evolution of heavy rock over the course of the last 22 years. No, Shihad have not been an island in that time, moving from out-and-out thrash through to melodic rock, electronic rock and – intriguingly – back again.
The brutality of ‘It’ and ‘Down Dance’ send the shirtless moshers hurtling into one another to start but one wonders what will happen when we move to “Deb’s Night Out” and “Yr Head Is A Rock” are trotted out. Will they stand still? Will they start booing?
There is precious little banter from singer Toogood tonight – not much more than “we wrote this song when we were 15” and “I want to see you all bouncing”. The songs – and visceral delivery – are the stars as Shihad remind us what a deep and rich back catalogue they have amassed over the course of eight albums.
The idea with this tour is that the stage set is supposed to get more commercial as the music does – but aside from some slightly more sophisticated lighting in the back-end of the set, the changes are barely noticeable.
The self-titled album of 1996 is probably the band’s most melodic effort but it was the 1999 follow-up, The General Electric, which captured the imagination on this side of the ditch. Toogood gives the band a break and introduced this bracket with a solo rendering of “The Brightest Star”. GA’s “My Mind’s Sedate” sends the moshpit mayhem to a new level but and it’s the title track which is the star of a marathon two-hour plus set.
Why can’t every band recording a guitar riff make it sound as monstrous and gut-wrenching as the centrepiece of “The General Electric”? Live, it’s spine-tingling stuff.
Toogood dedicates an acoustic version of “Run”, from the Pacifier album, to his dad and then there’s perhaps the most under-rated track in the Shihad pantheon, “Bullitproof”. This is the only time all night the mix sounds anything but perfect, with the Kippenberger’s bass drowning out Knight’s lead guitar to some extent.
Later releases such as “Alive”, “Lead Or Follow”, and “Sleep Eater” maintain the intensity more or less before a one-song encore of new track, “Right Outta Nowhere” . The HiFi is, to my thinking, the loudest venue in Australia and some 10 hours later the reviewer’s ears are still ringing. No, the moshers never started booing, instead bouncing along to tracks that at times eminated in some part – at least – from Larkin’s on-stage laptop.
Shihad will be remembered as a band that found the balance between heaviness, melody and empathetic story-telling that eludes thousands of their contemporaties, worldwide. That the rest of the world knows very little about them is the rest of the world’s problem – and probably to the benefit of the band artistically and to us because they’ve been allowed to develop organically without the crass distractions of global success.
Can you be termed “a national treasure” for more than one country? Because that’s exactly what Shihad are.