The Living End Retrospective Tour
Author: Brendan Hitchens
Corner Hotel: 11/12/12-16/12/12
Tuesday: The Living End walk on stage to a news montage of events from 1997 including the death of Princess Diana, the Thredbo landslide and also, fittingly, the release of their breakthrough EP Second Solution/Prisoner Of Society. The precursor to their self-titled album to be released a year later, it seems half a lifetime ago. For many in attendance, it is.Tonight is the band’s first of 11 shows at the Richmond venue they cut their teeth at and part of an ambitious 39-show retrospective national tour. Renowned as a live band, the tour is not just an opportunity for the trio to revel, but a thank you to a generation of fans. The record they are playing in its entirety, much like The Clash’s eponymous debut, explores British punk, ska and rockabilly elements with as much vitality as their idols displayed 21 years earlier. It’s their most successful commercial album and seemingly a hit parade, which spawned single after single. As per tracklisting, they begin with Prisoner Of Society, a song often reserved for encores. Like a watered-down version of Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name, the rhetoric is youthfully vague, nonetheless appropriated by the crowd as, fists in the air, they shout the refrain, “We don’t need no one to tell us what to do.” Sure,the context of the lyrics for both band and crowd has changed, Chris Cheney now resides in Los Angeles with his wife and two children, but it’s delivered with the same punk-rock disobedience that Cheney (who wrote the song aged 22) would have belted it out back in theday. It’s the song that broke the band and fitting that it’s the first song they perform on this run of dates. Soon followed by Second Solution, which Cheney introduces as “our first real single”, he incites the crowd, telling an anecdote of how the song’s clip was shot at the same venue in 1997, adding that the underage crowd back then were more energetic. Naturally it provokes a frenzy of movement, which doesn’t stop for the remainder of the night. The themes of tonight’s songs – the Dunblane school massacre of Monday or the industrial development of the Kennett government in All Torn Down – seem distant, but it’s not so much about the meaning of the songs, more the memories associated with hearing them. Many of the songs that bookend the album haven’t been performed live in years, if ever. Tonight they are reinvigorated, most notably Trapped featuring the makeshift Area 7 horn section. Despite the guests, there’s no sign, nor acknowledgment of original drummer Travis Dempsey, slightly tainting the legitimacy of the album he helped create. “We’re just a rockabilly band from Wheelers Hill,” says Cheney. A retrospective show with integrity, they race through the album with little sign of self importance. It’s a typical punk show of yesteryear: fast, furious and for the fans. With ten more shows to go, it will be hard to top tonight.
Wednesday: Where The Living End initially looked to the UK for inspiration, White Noise is unashamedly Australian. Steeped in the country’s long-running pub rock tradition, the record centres on big riffs and even bigger choruses, just like heroes AC/DC, Rose Tattoo and Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, whose Most People I Know they briefly cover tonight. It’s a record that seems at home when played at a pub rather than the festivals or stadiums they have become accustomed to, so the Corner makes an ideal setting. White Noise was the band’s first release on an independent label since the ‘90s and it shows. The radio singles are there, in fact they cram into the first third of the album, but once out of the way it’s Chris Cheney left to his own devices as he lets his guitar do much of the talking. Performing the album, and many of the tracks, live for the first time in years, Cheney embellishes each song with extended solos (aided by the addition of an extra guitarist), evidence he is more comfortable as a lead guitarist than a lead singer. The record that, supposedly, refuelled his passion for music, it seems onstage and in full flight he couldn’t be happier. As an album, and indeed a setlist, White Noise is disjointed. The title track, the band’s most successful radio single, is a clear crowd favourite as the back-and-forth chorus is chanted at full volume. The album’s boldest statement perhaps comes in the Calypso-inspired Sum Of Us that closes tonight’s performance, Cheney channelling Bob Marley as he sings, “God help those who don’t help the others/Some of us have more rights than the others”. Though White Noise is far from The Living End’s strongest album, they deliver it with such passion and verve that it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment.
Thursday: A temporary redemption after Modern ARTillery, State Of Emergency, released in 2006, is the fourth album from The Living End and the third they perform in a run of dates at the Corner Hotel. According to the video that plays before they walk on stage, it’s the record that won back wavering fans and earned them a legion of new ones. Regardless, like most shows on the tour, attendance is at capacity. Rarely deviating from their trademark sound, only adjusting intensity, State Of Emergency is a superbly produced record ,but in a live context that counts for nothing. What separates tonight from normal shows is the fact that they perform a full album from start to finish for the first and only time. It’s the sense of witnessing something rare that validates the concept. State Of Emergency is vintage The Living End, full of punk-inspired rock’n’roll and Chris Cheney’s distinguishable lyrics. Wake Up is a contemporary take on Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall, as Cheney sings, “Wake up to the situation/Suicidal education.” It’s full of gloom and cynicism, until a stirring chorus kicks in; tonight the role of youth choir is played by the front five rows of the audience.The record’s first single What’s On Your Radio? is surely tongue in cheek. Coming in at under three minutes, it seems written for the airways with its repetitious verse/chorus structure that sees Cheney drop the word “radio” 27 times. Like so many of the band’s songs, it was warmly embraced by national radio, making Cheney’s line “Do you trust what’s on your radio?” seem daft. At 51:45 it’s their longest album and, to accommodate, the banter is kept to a minimum tonight. Although this means proceedings are wrapped up by 11pm, you lose the connection to the band and, to the detriment of the concept, feel like you’re just listening to the record from start to finish. “Playing a record eliminates the surprise option,” smirks Cheney, as a fan shouts out a request, offering a rare insight into his personality, but also highlighting why such shows are hit and miss.
Friday: At the time of release, The Living End’s Modern ARTillery was met with a lukewarm response. Rolling Stone gave it a safe three-stars, it entered the charts lower than their previous albums, and many fans and media alike slept on the record. It came after Chris Cheney’s life-threatening car accident, was their first with a new line-up and, as the years passed by, got lost amongst their six-album deep discography. But with time comes clarity and benefiting from its start to finish performance tonight, Modern ARTillery, to this day, stands as the band’s strongest release. At just under 90 seconds, What Would You Do? begins the album and set, one of the rare tracks written by double bass player Scott Owen. Subtly wearing a Mr Cassidy shirt, his Byron Bay-based bluegrass project, it’s surprising he doesn’t have more writing credits to his name. Followed by Tabloid Magazine, a song, in the wake of recent News Of The World and 2Day FM scandals, that seems as relevant today as the day it was written. Who’s Gonna Save Us? follows, the first single from the album and showcasing Chris Cheney at his questioning socio-political best. A song that infiltrated the US charts and was used in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 documentary, it’s punchy and to the point. Tonight Cheney is in fine form. He dedicates End Of The World to the Mayan calendar, there’s a brief cover of U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday and the greatest glimpse into the writing process of the album and events leading up to its release is provided when he introduces Rising Up From The Ashes as a song about “bouncing back after a tough, tough time”. Cheney, and the entire band for that matter, are forever grateful to the fans. “The previous record of the Corner was five shows,” he gleams. The Living End haven’t just eclipsed the record, jointly held by Megan Washington and Matt Corby in 2010 and 2012 respectively, they’ve smashed it.
Saturday: The lights dim and a documentary-like montage plays, before The Living End walk on stage one by one. It’s a daily charade, and for the fifth night in a row, goes to script. The band’s sixth and most recent record, The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating, is less than 17 months old. It is also their most disappointing. The singles seem forced and the lyrics clumsy, as they loosely appropriate rockabilly sounds with influences of U2, Midnight Oil and The Police. They play to their strengths, Chris Cheney’s guitar work, but those moments are few are far between, on a record that’s slow and restrictive. Tonight, a reprised version of E-Boogie and a semi-ironic cover of The Wiggles’ Hot Potato, both of which don’t appear on the album, are highlights, as too the title track that closes the album. “We’re at the tail end of the tour, enthusiasm can wane, but it’s not going to. We thank you for that,” says a mortal Cheney mid-set, as he looks to the crowd for inspiration, 33 shows into a tour and with six more to go. “Everything goes away but comes back some day/The ending is just the beginning repeating,” Cheney sings to close the album, with a sense that this might be more of a farewell tour than retrospective. If these lyrics ring true, it will be sombre not only to see such a band call it quits, but also for The Ending Is JustThe Beginning Repeating to be their final legacy.
Sunday: It’s testament to The Living End that they’re still playing, let alone returning to the Richmond venue that helped forge their career. Tonight sees them perform their 2000 album Roll On. Where their debut, two years prior, was on their own terms, Roll On had the fingerprints of EMI. Ultimately it sounded like a major-label record – polished and elaborate. When performed live tonight the sheen is gone, the band thrashing out the songs with a refreshing rawness. Opener Roll On is a declaration, as much about the band saying “we’re back” as the industrial wharf dispute it was commentating on. Beginning with a riff that sounds suspiciously like Pretty Vacant by The Sex Pistols, it builds on the momentum of their debut and is the perfect start to any setlist. Pictures In The Mirror follows and it’s one of their finest works in an extensive catalogue. The album is a fan favourite, evident by the show’s early sold-out status and the need for an extra date to be added. Chief songwriter Chris Cheney admits to listening to Midnight Oil, The Angels and AC/DC at the time of writing and it shows. But, again, there’s elements of ska (Blood On Your Hands), pop (Revolution Regained) and also bar room sing-alongs (Uncle Harry).Tonight, at just over an hour, is their most entertaining set of the week. Covers of Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues, The Stray Cat’s Rock This Town and Queen’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love enhance the atmosphere and offer a snapshot of the artists that inspired the album. There’s no doubt The Living End are superb live, but it’s the songs they will be remembered for and Roll On is full of those.