Super Wild Horses + Day Ravies + The Kramers @ Black Bear Lodge, 17.05.2013

Super Wild Horses @ Black Bear Lodge, Friday 17 May 2013

Amazingly there has been some recent discussion regarding whether you should bother going to see the support bands.  It might be just me, but it seems like there’s been noticeable decline in music writing in the first half of 2013.  There’s very little in the way of creative writing or developed and considered prose; it’s just all 10 Things We Learnt, 13 Reasons Why, 16 Things, What You Missed While You Were Sleeping.  Listicles masquerading as writing to minimise effort and time and to maximise the click bait potential.

One article made a claim that there’s an art to gigging alone, as if you somehow needed some instructions to go and do something of you own accord by yourself.  One of the article’s guidelines included that you should skip the support acts.  Obviously this was quickly followed up by a follow-up feature about whether you should support the supports.  The way music writing is going in 2013, no doubt they’ll scrape another couple of opinion pieces out of the subject matter, at least a piece by a musician putting their case forward as to why punters should go and see the support acts. It’s strange that in 2013, Australian music websites have suddenly discovered to the need to explicitly create ‘Opinion’ categories, as if the writing they were publishing before was devoid of anything like an honest opinion.

As to the subject of going to gigs alone, it’s never been anything I’ve had a problem with and probably 80%+ of the gigs I’ve been to have been by myself.  I’ve even been to multi-day festivals by myself.  I guess as an adult, I’ve always considered that I’m perfectly able to do the things I want to do without any external validation or be needy enough to require a whole support network of people to hold my hand.  In a lot of ways, I’ve always preferred it as it means you avoid the pitfalls of the democratic consensus about when to go, when to leave, what bands to see, whether you see the support bands or not, where to stand etc.  In addition, reading through the glorified listicle ‘Art’ of gigging alone, I don’t know how Gen Y survives without their mobile phones to keep them company.  Then again, social media is often little more than the art of blowing smoke up your own arse, combined with the need for external validation for everything you do.

As to the subject of going to see the support acts, I’ve always done it.  It’s little to do with supporting the local scene or the venues.  It’s definitely nothing to do with anything remotely approaching the fist-pumping nationalist views of the Australian music media and various forum posters, that you support Australian acts because they’re Australian acts and it’s Un-Australian to do anything else.  For me, it’s always been a combination of a pure economic, value-for-money outlook crossed with the lucky dip surprise of (often) not knowing what you’re going to get.  I usually paid the money for the headliner so the supports come as free entertainment (price of drinks not included).  With the headline act I usually know what I’m going to get, I often don’t when it comes to the support acts.  There’s also a voyage of discovery element to it all, seeing support acts when that was their position in the music industry, when their future was unwritten and before they might have become something far bigger than an opening act on the UK toilet circuit.  It’s obviously better in the UK than it is in Australia, but support acts I have seen include the likes of Radiohead (twice – once supporting The Frank & Walters, and I can never remember who the second time was), Tool (supporting RATM) and Mercury Rev (supporting Laser Guided Melodies-era Spiritualised).  Even the first gig I went to (U2 at Cardiff Arms Park) had The Pretenders and The Alarm as the support acts.  I wish I’d kept better records as I know there’s a lot more really good support acts that I’ve seen down the years but a lot of my gig-going university days were pre-Windows, pre-Office and the thought of using a spreadsheet to record everything was something that was never entertained.  Of course the internet was still a few years away as well, so the ability to not have to remember details and rely on online information just didn’t exist.

Since taking up photography, there’s been a slightly different mindset, in that you never know where the support acts you photograph will end up and it’s nice to have photos of an act in their early days. I have a few photos of Wolfmother’s fourth or fifth gig, opening up for Vanlustbader at The Hopetoun, Butcher Bird’s first ever gig, Violent Soho opening one of the stages at 4ZZZ’s Market Day in 2006, DZ when they were playing 1am shows at The Troubadour, Velociraptor playing downstairs at The Waiting Room (when there were more of them in the room than punters), Jet’s first London gig at the Camden Barfly and many more besides.

Tonight’s opening band, The Kramers play to probably less than a dozen people, or at least a dozen who aren’t hiding near the bar and towards the back of the room.  Although I saw them last year at I Used To Skate Once 8 at The Zoo, they didn’t leave me with any special memories of their set.  Tonight is an entirely different matter and their 40 minute set leaves me completely blown away.  You just can’t take your eyes off singer/guitarist Ethan Kernaghan.  At times you can’t make out anything he’s singing, it’s incomprehensible Elvis-style mumbling, at other times evoking the spirit of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins while also showing that he’s been playing close attention to the raw vocal stylings of Patti Smith.

Similarly, his guitar playing is a mix of scat-style playing, his left hand switching between playing under and over the neck, playing random notes before launching into a bone fide rockabilly solo or refrain.  With his guitar strapped high, he hops around the stage, standing on one leg, raising the other up, at times wrapping it around the mic stand.  It’s a completely mesmerising performance, the best individual performance I can remember from someone in a new Brisbane band for a long time.  I take a few photos but don’t really do him justice under the dark lights of Black Bear Lodge, and choosing to sit and watch rather than concentrate on photographing for the whole set.

After the band have finished, a quick Google search to find out more about the band finds that singer/guitarist Ethan Kernaghan is fifteen.  FIFTEEN.  It’s possible that the band’s bio is slightly out of date so I guess he might have now made it to a whole sixteen years of age, but it’s still slightly flabbergasting that someone that young can play and sing like he does and has that all-important x-factor stage presence (x-factor as in the original phrase rather than the terrible tv show).

The next day I have a listen to all the songs on the band’s Bandcamp site (all available as Name Your Price downloads) and, probably unsurprisingly, it’s not as good as seeing the band in the flesh.  I recognise a lot of the songs that were played the previously night but they definitely lose something and can’t compete with the rawness of the live performance.  As with so many bands, the difficulty is with trying to record a band so that they sound as good on recording as they do live.

After The Kramers play, Sydney’s Day Ravies play their main support set, but it’s nothing exciting (apart from the bit where the keyboard player’s keyboard stand completely collapses sending her very heavy looking (and possibly expensive) instrument to stage).  Even Super Wild Horses seem a bit flat tonight.  They don’t have much momentum in their set as they bring up additional people top play with them, swap instruments and take their time between songs.  The gaps between songs feel too long and it’s too stop-and-start and it’s just not that stimulating.  Maybe it is, maybe it’s just me.  After all, my head is still replaying The Kramers, something the majority of the assembled audience weren’t here for.

As ever, the moral of the story is that you should go and see the support acts.  With the headline act you usually know what you’re going to get, but the real thrill of music is in the always in the unexpected.  If you turn up early, and if you’re very lucky, you might get to see something as mind-blowing as The Kramers.

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