One of the many things the scribe gets off on when attending a ‘cultural event’ is watching from the side lines the secondary features outside of the reason he payed a lot of money to experience. This week’s music concert at Cardiff’s Grand Hall by the Viagra Boys offered many such opportunities for such a casual observer.
The Grand Hall has been designed the wrong way around, the stage is in the wrong place and so to get the full hit of the music thrown at you, one has to be in a confined area, in this venue’s case, about one fifth of its total width. The ideal place to witness and hear a music band is directly in front of the sound booth and this is where the scribe took up residence. The quickly forming crowd was made up of all the genders and there were mature concert goers as well as the expected twenty-something patrons. The scribe took this as a good sign.
The scribe was faintly familiar with the Viagra Boys’ sound after being introduced to them on a friend’s you tube machine. He really liked them. Their music was rooted in the spirit, sound and sensibility of post-punk, complete with its attendant flirtation with disco. This is a music that really tickles the scribe’s ears and ticks the scribe’s boxes (if this book should stray and roam, box its ears and send it home. And whatever). Other than this exposure to them, the scribe was naïve.
It became apparent to the scribe that there were more male-looking people than female-looking people and more young-looking people than mature-looking people. There were enough of these all-sorts-of-people now to start getting a sense of collective style. A high proportion of the young men were sporting moustaches. Bushy and full and styled moustaches. The scribe made an enquiry and was told these moustaches were being sported ‘non-ironically’. This pleased the scribe no end as it allowed an opportunity to view the evening’s proceedings through a non-ironic lens. The scribe’s head was already swimming with notions of what non-irony, irony and post-ironic irony might mean, specifically to these younger people. The scribe noticed also a proliferation of a hairstyle that, until this evening, would certainly be sported in a resolutely ironic fashion. The mullet. But the scribe, bearing in mind that the young men were wearing their moustaches non-ironically, presupposed that the mullet was also being worn in the same manner. This made the scribe curious as to the role of irony in the contemporary stylings of the young person. If one decides on a mullet, is the wearer consciously making a decision about wearing the hairstyle ironically verses non-ironically? And is a non-ironic position the same as a normal position, where non-ironic is the same as no irony at all, so as to not even factor it in? The scribe surmised that the young people now naturally factor in increasing layers of irony so effortlessly that it has become second nature to them. They are not conscious of irony bias and have unwittingly arrived at a zen-like state where inverted commas don’t exist and there’s never any embarrassment at the barbers. With this in mind, the scribe thought the young men were probably not sporting mullets at all, but neo-mullets and this made him thankful for his crew-cut. Along with the neo-mullet and the non-ironic moustache, the younger man was also sporting decidedly bad-style attire. Denim waistcoats and sleeveless t-shirts were in abundance. It appeared as if the young men were neo-gypsies from an imagined stretch of the Danube. And whatever.
The hall was now filling up and the amount of young men adopting all three of these stylistic stances suggested there may be a fashion, a trend, a movement. The scribe wondered if this was a wider movement or something particular to the Viagra Boys. The scribe also wondered why people choose to look the same as everyone else. For a moment, the scribe feared he may have found himself in the midst of a community. The eagle-eyed reader who is still reading may wonder why the scribe’s gaze seems concerned only with the male concert-goer. Well, that’s because, with a few notable exceptions, the female quotient appeared content to dress down for the event, whether ironinically, non-ironically or post-irony ironically. For indeed, the evening, hosted by Viagra Boys not Girls, appeared to be shaping up to be a male-orienated affair, And whatever.
The scribe’s male dominance ponderence was interrupted as the house lights dimmed and intro music ushered in the evening’s support act which inluded a non-male saxophonist. The band struck a welcome mixed-message with a collective appearance suggesting they’d raided a dressing-up box backstage containing rock’s most tiresome wardrobe. A bare-chested Atlasian keyboard played, a bass-player in a white, can’t be bothered t-shirt, and a drummer in an Alsatian mask, more of which in a moment. Saving the worst for last, the singer and frontman came on stage draped in a leather trenchcoat and a cowboy style leather hat with oversized brim. He sported some facial hair stylings that strongly suggested he too was part of the psuedo-Danubian movement. This ragtag mixture of styles, body shapes and sizes was confusing and in no way indicated what musical outpourings lay ahead. The band struck up their first number and within a few bars it was apparent that their mishmashed appearance was infinitely more cohesive than anything sonic they has to offer. To the scribe, they sounded truly awful. The sound was colossally bass-heavy, the singer’s guitar was inaudible, the drums were a clatter, the saxophone intermittent. There was some techno inflection from the keyboardist adding to the general thrust of a diluted form of gypsy-punk akin to the No Smoking Orchestra. It gave rise to a thought-bubble above the scribe’s head that the psuedo-Danubians had come from a student am-dram adaptation of a Kusturica film. And whatever.
The sound was so bad that the scribe wondered if that hackneyed trick from rock’s yesteryear of giving the support act such a sh*t sound that when the main act take to the stage they sound “really f***ing sick, dude”. Talking of hackneyed rockisms, it appeared as if the singer had fully embraced his short-straw, costume box Wayne Hussey outfit and was pushing the rock messiah persona to its breaking point. The scribe attempted to view it through a lens of post-ironic irony but such critical distance eluded him and he was unable get past the thought of the lighting rig falling on the psuedo-Danubian frontman and taking him out. It’s an awful spectacle, the rock messiah and Wayne Husseyfit was doing an appalling job. He raised his outstretched arms but no higher than his shoulders (perhaps the leather trenchcoat was too small for him) which reslted in him coming across as a Poundland Bono. A full-price Bono is bad enough. And whatever.
The saving grace of the band, in terms serious, post-ironic irony credence, was the drummer’s get-up. Beneath his full-headed rubber Alsation mask, he wore a t-shirt with the sign that adorned the door of post-war public houses right up until the 1980s age of enlightenment, “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs”. As an image, a provocation, a poignant question-raiser, it eclipsed all other contenders for the post-ironic irony top slot and ceratinly eclipsed his own band’s performance. Still, despite the scribe’s reservations about poorly-placed stage craft and weak, barely there songs, it was difficult not to feel genuine sympathy for the band as they struggled to elicit a modicum of energy from an indifferent crowd, hardly surprising as they had been nobbled by a time-travelling sound guy from the 70s, when irony was the just a still-born form of sarcasm. And whatever.
A turning point came mid-set when the bass player, clearly exhasperated by audience antipathy, took off his bass guitar and weilded it like a machine gun, spraying imagined bullets into the crowd. The scribe warmed to them at this point, even overlooking the Fisher Price messiah’s crowd-surfing. The audience seemed to up their game too and the leather-clad lord of the psuedo-Danubians was able to manipulate the crowd, crotcheting the mosh-pit into a sweaty doily, the once resistant throng now sitting around him in a reverential circle. It seemed he couldn’t quite believe the change in his band’s fortunes because he performed the same stunt a second time a few songs later. As their set neared its anti-climax, the sound actually seemed to worsen, the saxophone now as inaudible as the guitar but they had succeeded in turning the energy levels to thier favour and they left the stage looking triumphant and appreciated.
The venue was now at capacity and anticipation was peaking. These are often the best moments at gigs of this size. A sizable portion of the psuedo-Danubians were now proudly sporting Viagra Boys t-shirts, a design so awful the scribe couldn’t believe that anyone would have gotten paid for coming up with it. Perhaps the young people were wearing them with some meta-irony, which is the better irony. And whatever.
The Viagra Boys took to the stage to an ominous drone intro track and rapturous applause but blundered any segueway into their opening number. The spell was broken almost as soon as it was cast. The scribe’s appreciation of the Viagra Boys is based primarily on a video of a performance in what looked like a meat packing factory. As well as the music, it was the reticence to engage in any showbiz schmaltz that held appeal. That performance was impassioned yet aloof, direct yet measured. They seemed street and cool. The undeniable primal power of their music, effortlessly reproduced live, suffered with the dissolution of that distance, the between-song engagement seemed clumsy, unessecary and annoying. The singer began an enecdote about his expulsion from successive secondary schools, pausing for the braying, non-ironic whoopings and hollerings from an audience seemingly made up largely of never-been-expelled-from-
secondary-school university students. Perhaps the scribe missed the ironic content of this singer/audience exchange, instead mistaking it for hollow, pantomime folly. The singer and his pot-belly couldn’t even be bothered to finish the anecdote, abandoning it midway so abruptly he even had to comment on it. He was propbably on showbiz drugs. The scribe’s preference would have been for song to immediately follow song, for distance to be maintained and enigma to be upheld. But yabber between songs he did and the music, impeccable as it was, was taken down a notch on the intensity scale. Because their music is intense, the brute force of the rhythm section not needing to vary from the accustomed drive. It’s not quite formulaic but it seems the audience know exactly what it’s going to get. And whatever.
There’s little dynamism to their set because no-one really wants it, the pounding, the unrelenting, the irrestible force is what everyone has paid £29 for tonight and no-one’s going to ask for a refund when a change in dynamic does arrive. The second song of the night sounds like a change to the standard Viagra Boys sound to which the scribe had become accostomed through his limited exposure. To the scribe, it sounded like a still-born version of Joy Division’s Transmission. A little later, another change of pace came in the form of a lame mimicry of Bummed-era Happy Mondays but was bereft of the Happy Monday’s genius for shamble. The scribe wondered if the Viagra Boys look to Factory Records’ back catalogue when considering going off their well-beaten track? And whatever.
Later still, the saxophonist took a solo spot, presumably to let the band have a rest and for the singer to take his pot-bellied tattoo brochure into the wings for some showbiz drugs. The saxophonist’s turn was a triumph and his satin, crotch-hugging shorts one of the scribe’s highlights of the show. When they reconvened as a full band, they took everything up a gear and were rightly applauded to the rafters. The singer’s between song banter had ceased and glorious, brutal grooves of jagged disco glided beautifully into each other. Following another of rock’s cliches, when a band leaves the stage presumably at the end of their set but the house lights remain off but still the non-ironic sheep bleat for encore when it’s obvious it’s coming. The scribe wished they wouldn’t do that. It’s a gratuitious bout of foreplay, unnecessary when all both parties want is to carry on with the f***ing. When they predictably arrive for their encores, the level reached is sublime and they really seem to be powered by a genuine momentum of passion and skillfully controlled energy. The scribe’s happy about this as earlier in the show they seemed to merely cruise, resembling a gang of Basingstoke bank managers having a convivial kick around in the local park when they should be at home looking after the kids. Or whatever.
In short, the scribe concluded the support were shocking, almost horrific, the Viagarians were on a coast until delivering with stellar aplomb, the kids have too much identity at their disposal but should grow out of it and the layers of irony to be found in a contemporary cultural event make one yearn for simpler times when you could laugh openly at a mullet. 8/10.
The scribe is a fifty-three year old, white male who should really get out more.