CANADA-US BORDER CROSSING – 26 August 2016
“Passport, please … What is the purpose of your visit to the USA?”
“I’m going to watch a band play in Portland and Seattle.”
“What’s the name of the band?”
“Violent Soho. They’re Australian."
“Are they violent?”
PORTLAND – 30 August 2016 @ Analog Cafe & Theater
Matt, Liam and I arrived at Analog Cafe & Theater at around 7.30pm and walked inside to a long dark room with high ceilings. Heavy metal was playing moderately loudly through the speakers and we were greeted by a heavily-tattooed bartender, who was as brash as she was friendly (she achieved the combination just perfectly). A few people were sitting at tables eating food, which we peered at greedily through the corners of our eyes.
Food? we asked each other. No, drink.
We ordered a drink each and a shot of tequila each. Bottom shelf, no lemon or salt is fine, I say. They arrived with lemon and salt anyway and, man, were we thankful for their salty, citrusy aid. The $5 ‘shots’ were more like cups of tequila – each of which would be considered at least 2 Australian shots. The bartender chuckled and said she had a ‘Slavic arm,’ which yields generous freepours. That, in turn, yielded 3 twisted, pained faces as we gracelessly consumed the happy poison.
We planned on moving upstairs to watch the first of the support bands, Snow Roller, but were told that drinks couldn’t be taken up because it was an all ages show. So we sat out the front with our new friend Dave from Atlanta, and soon James Tidswell (the lead guitarist) and Michael Richards (the drummer) from Violent Soho came to sit at the table next to us and we sat chatting to them about their US tour and about Brisbane and about bacon. We realised we’d missed Snow Roller and decided to get one more drink before going upstairs and then somehow we missed Meat Wave too, who we very much wanted to see. We could hear them resonating through the walls upstairs. For what it’s worth, the resonating sounded good (as far as resonating goes) and I have heard a lot good things about them. But it wasn’t so bad because we knew were going to see them the following day.
The Violent Soho boys left us to go upstairs and set up. We finished our drinks and headed up too. Another long, dark room but this time with no tables, no food, no alcohol. The stage was at the back end and there was a cluster of people immediately in front of it. We made our way towards the stage and waited, all around us hearing distinctly Australian accents.
On came Violent Soho. The crowd was relatively small (maybe around 100) but people were packed closely together and there was a buzz in the air. A few short moments were spent expectantly waiting for what the first song would be. And suddenly Dope Calypso was filling the room with its slow, rich heaviness, punctuated by its lighter, popier verses. A solid way to start an album and a solid way to start a show. We danced, we sang, I smiled the greatest...
Next they played In the Aisle and I moved in closer - to the edge of the mosh pit - where people were basically using their bodies as battering rams. Some girls next to the stage were being pushed onto the foldback speakers in front of the band. The girls were just as – or maybe even more – aggressive as the guys as they slammed into each other and shoved each other into other others.
Perhaps at the end of this song, or maybe after the next, there was a pause in the music and James asked whether everyone was safe and we all roared, “yes!” and the show went on.
Things slowed down a little with Neighbour Neighbour and So Sentimental and then re-energised with the catchy Viceroy (on our camping trip in Oregon leading up to this show, Viceroy was very much stuck in our heads. Just when it finally left one person's head, another of us would sing a line and back in it went). It has that perfect mix of pop-rock with a slower, stoner-rock chorus – a combination which is achieved so well by Violent Soho. I moved a little deeper into the mosh pit and jumped and danced and protected my face from elbows. I helped to pick up a couple of girls who had been knocked to the ground. That’s been me many times before. Mosh pit etiquette is wondrously paradoxical.
Another WACO song, Blanket, and then back to a couple of mellow Hungry Ghost songs; Saramona Says and Fur Eyes. People in the crowd singing along to every word.
Things heavied up again with How To Taste and then got wild with Love Is A Heavy Word. I’m quite sure that that was where most of my bruises came from. Violent Soho seemed to be both drawing from and feeding the energy of the crowd. Small as it was, the crowd was mostly a mixture of drinking-age Australians and under drinking-age Portlanders (it being an all ages show): the combination of which was hectic.
Like Soda was next up and then Jesus Stole My Girlfriend. They then told us that this would be the last song. “HELL FUCK YEAH!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. It must be Covered In Chrome. “Will I drive out in the night. Never come back in a mighty fright. Stay out longer while I can, Picking fossils in the sand…,” Luke Boerdam’s distinctive voice sang. Would they ever be able to not put this song onto their setlist? Would they ever not want to? Watching a clip of this song from an Australian festival a few months back was what made me know I had to see them live. They didn’t disappoint. (There is a new Instagram account called @hellfuckyeahhh that is purely video clips of the "hell fuck yeah" part of Covered In Chrome if you want to get your fix.)
After the song, the crowd were hungry for more and a wave of “one more song” built up. They said that they weren’t going to play an encore but that they wanted us to stay back and have a beer with them. So we did. We chatted to Mikey and James some more and to Jeff Hahn, their tour sound guy, and Mark Bawden, their merch guy (who, incidentally, is the singer of the Perth hardcore punk band Break Even. “Most overqualified merch guy ever,” someone said about him the following night).
The show had finished at around 10pm but we found ourselves still sitting outside the front of the venue at 2am. I was sleepy and ended up running back to my Air BnB 2 kms away; the promise of bed much too inviting for walking.
SEATTLE - 31 August, 2016 @ The Sunset Tavern
I love Seattle. I’ve heard lots of good things about Portland but, to be honest, I think that 48 hours just wasn’t enough time to make an impression on me. But Seattle… Seattle has soul. The people are friendly, the food is amazing and it is just oozing with culture.
About an hour before the show, I saw a Facebook post saying that Meat Wave weren’t going to be able to make it to the show as their van had broken down en route from Portland. I kicked myself for not having watched them the day before. Damn.
The Sunset Tavern also had a separate bar and show room. But this was no all ages show so we grabbed drinks and wandered in to catch the very end of the post-punk, art rock Seattle band Mutiny Mutiny’s set. The 200 person capacity room was full and there were people nodding their heads and attentively listening. But it sure did feel like the calm before the storm.
Mutiny Mutiny quickly packed up and Violent Soho were soon on stage. There was no long gap where Meat Wave should have been. It was straight on to more music.
Violent Soho played the same set they did the previous night: no encore. But tonight felt different. The show was sold out and it felt like people had all this built up Violent Soho energy that needed to explode out of them. Matt, Liam and I met some Australians who had also come down from Canada – from Whistler and Vancouver – and I even met two Canadian sisters who had made the trip from Calgary just to see the band (that is not a short distance!). Apparently the hostel Matt and Liam were staying at was 1/3 full of people there just to watch this show. Violent Soho fans are a dedicated bunch. Rightly so.
I stood at the front of the crowd to the left so I was close to the band but not in the mosh pit like the night before. It was crazy chaos in there - even more so than the previous night. At one point someone threw a studded bra onto the stage, which James passed over to Luke Henery. Initially, he put it on over his tshirt but when I next looked over, he had removed the tshirt and was just wearing bra on skin. People would rush onto the stage and thrust themselves into (well, onto) the crowd. It was a good ol' wild time. I was trying to stay out of the pandemonium and just enjoy the music but I was headbanging a little too fiercely and pulled a few muscles in my neck and had to get away from the stage and out into the bar room. I missed the penultimate song but made it back in time for Covered in Chrome. I stood at the back and watched as the entire room erupted and swelled together with each chorus. I left when the last note was played. I knew there’d be no encore. But I was ok with that. It was a perfect set that I got to experience twice – the second time as fresh as the first.
I sat down and rested my heavy head on my hand and apologised to my neck for asking too much of it. I had painkillers and lots of water and was heading towards the washroom when I bumped into James. I had asked him the previous night if I could ask him a few questions for Cool Perth Nights and he said that he had a few moments spare right then so I asked my questions (below this article) and then gave him a hug to thank him for the music and for Violent Soho being the icing on my roadtripweek cake. It was a very delicious cake.
I then went with my old friends (and some newly-made friends) to a bar to eat fries and cauliflower (my first time eating a plate of cauliflower after midnight) and grits (which sounds gross but is oh so delicious) and I had a mojito. We then went to Hattie’s Hat bar where the band were having post gig drinks (other than lead singer Luke, who had gone a little too hard and needed to rest his vocal chords). We had jello shots with Luke Henery and were photobombed by James. I can honestly say that these guys are as lovely as they are talented as they are humble. We made new friends with other people who’d been at the show and I somehow kept the weight of my head up even though my neck had forgotten how to work properly.
We finally got thrown out of the bar at 2am and we hung outside where I met a guy called Russ who is from England (and who sounds exactly like Russell Brand) but lives in Fremantle and is in Seattle making a BMX movie. And our new friend, Dave (who everybody seems to fall in love with immediately!) did some tricks in the middle of the street on his skateboard. And everyone cheered. And then we said our thank yous and our farewells to the band and to our new friends. And my old friends and I got Ubers back to our beds.
I woke up this morning unable to move my neck much so here I am, in bed in my Air BnB Airstream trailer, writing this review about how sometimes impulsive life decisions can result in the absolute best experiences. This entire week of camping and riding bikes and exploring new places and seeing one of my favourite bands for the first time and the second time, has been an unforgettable blur (oxymoron for emphasis), which will stay with me forever.
INTERVIEW with James Tidswell of Violent Soho, post Seattle show
How has the tour been going and have you already been making plans to come back to the States?
The tour's been going awesome. We expected maybe 20 or 30 people per show and I think LA sold out, tonight sold out, San Fran was unreal and Portland was awesome as well. It was completely different, Portland, but it was good and, yeah, we are already sorta making plans to come back. I think we just weren't expecting that many people to be into it and, you know, maybe we should have come back sooner.
When you were playing smaller venues in Australia before you got more national/international recognition, were you dreaming of making it or were you just happy making music?
I can confidently say that we were happy making music and that's why we were a band for so long, because we considered it successful to us that anyone was watching - whether it was 5, 10, 15, 20 people... To us, that was just as good as it could get. And then when Australia like - I mean, we just didn't really expect it to happen at all... ever! It was almost like we had gotten used to the fact that would never happen so we got it out of our minds sorta thing. And maybe we did sorta have it in our minds originally, and it's kinda like, you know, when you've lost your keys and then you stop looking for them and you find them. It was sorta like that, I guess.
On this American tour, you've been playing much smaller venues than you've recently been used to back in Australia. How have you been finding that?
Really really fun. We haven't played venues like that in a few years. It's definitely more challenging. I think the bands that play those shows / these size venues have to work a lot harder than those with 1000s of people. But I think that because we've been a band for like 13 years, and only in the last 3 years we've played to 1000s in Australia, that we're more used to this anyway, you know. I think we have to adjust to it a little bit because it's not the same sort of thing but, yeah, we've done this for 10 years so it's easier to do in a way. Does that make sense? But it's awesome! To be honest, these are my favourite sort of shows and I read interviews where people say that and it's generally pretty lame, but it's just the truth and the bands that I like generally don't play to 1000s of people at their own shows and stuff so... I always grew up as this being the ultimate.
What kind of direction do you think Violent Soho will take in the future?
Well, after a show like that, I want to say a little bit more mellow, you know, we're a little bit older now. We're kinda more into actually playing guitar rather than just thrashing it out. I think for the first time we're starting to get interested in sounds and maybe more stuff like the OK Cathedral or the song Hungry Ghost. You know the song Low off WACO? Sorta just more intricate stuff that is challenging and exciting for us because we've been getting drunk and thrashing out music for 13 years... it's like, what we're next excited about is really exploring soundscapes and that sort of thing, I'd imagine.
Which posters did you have on your wall as a 15 year old?
At 15, I had Eminem. It was the only one my mum asked me to take down. She said that it was offensive to women and it was offensive to her to have that up in her house. But other than that, I had an AFI poster, a Blink 182 poster… I actually had a Jim Morrison poster that I got from Movie World in Australia. And I can't remember what else. But, yeah, I mean growing up, I had posters constantly changing on my wall. All my wall was posters. Whatever the Blunt Magazine poster issue was at the time.