I was devoutly into metal at the time and I just loved going to gigs and jumping around to heavy music. Being underage, my choice of venues was severely limited, so every Thursday I’d religiously scan the entertainment pages in The Age newspaper and also watch Recovery on Saturday mornings on ABC TV with Dylan Lewis (who was something of a douche) in the hope of catching a three-minute segment called All Things All Ages or some such. It was often a futile pursuit as there were very few all-ages gigs and even fewer all-ages metal gigs, which is how I ended up at a Millencolin gig.
I was young and didn't know any better.
I’m being a tad sarcastic when I say I’m not much of a fan of Swedish pop punk. In fact, my knowledge of this band is limited to one track on an obscure punk compilation. But it was an all-ages gig and a mate had invited me to come so why the hell not. It’s what you do when you’re 15.
From memory there wasn't much worth repeating from the gig. The Living End were one of the supports and were still vaguely cool back then — while writing this update I worked out that this gig was played just one month after the release of the Second Solution / Prisoner of Society EP. Apparently (and by apparently I mean Wikipedia told me) this release became the highest selling Australian single from the ’90s.
The HiFi Bar, as it had recently been renamed, was kind of dark and I recall gleefully leaping into what passed as a circle pit and promptly getting smashed in the head. I pulled out and didn’t jump back in. Also, my mate got into an argument with someone who had supposedly stuck a lit firelighter at him. Or something…
As I said, I really loved jumping around and going nuts to heavy music. Secretly I’d have liked to talk to girls even more but I was way, way, way too shy for that.
BEST LINE-UP EVER
Look at this stub and tell me that isn’t a totally killer line-up.
Where were you on this glorious day?
Headlining were Canadian metallers Strapping Young Lad when they had just started getting really big after the release of the City album.
Supporting were two superb Aussie bands: Canberra’s psychedelic metal warriors Alchemist, who had recently released Spiritech (one of my favourite albums of all time and a criminally underrated masterpiece); and ‘hatecore’ purveyors Damaged, a band that was notorious for Matt Skitz’s drumming and destroying venues and fans (literally and metaphorically). And they were playing an all-ages gig. Which I was attending!
Unfortunately Damaged pulled the plug at the last moment and were replaced by Segression. They played an ok sort of mix of groove metal with some nu-metal thrown in for good measure but I’ll never forget this band name because I once knew a girl whose first words to me were: “Do you know Segression? I’m going to fuck the drummer.” True story. The first words I mean. I doubt she proceeded with her intended plan.
If I may digress for a moment, I’d also like to point out that this was in the days of pre-fast internet and so radio, particularly community radio, played an important role in spreading the gospel of metal. All these bands were played on at least three separate radio shows each week, which I’d listen to religiously. My long-gone favourite was Demon Night from 10-12 on Wednesday nights on 106.7 PBS FM — seriously, it was the best show EVER! The Hard Report ran on 102.7 RRR FM on Sunday nights from 10-2 and was responsible for my chronic tiredness at school on Monday mornings. And then there was Three Hours Of Power, played nationally on Triple J every Tuesday night from 10-1. My formative metal years were shaped by community radio. I loved the humbleness of these programs, how dead air was a regular occurrence when the announcer (usually the only person in the building by that time of night) ducked into the toilet and the track mysteriously finished early. Or how the promo cart would hurriedly be faded out half-way because it was the wrong one, or a phone would start ringing in the middle of an interview. Radio really meant something back then — and to make matters even better I’d generally make back the cost of my RRR and PBS subscriptions from the free prizes I’d win.
Forgive me, I was merely enjoying the nostalgia…
We showed up half-way through Segression’s set and found the somewhat sedate crowd doing what early crowds (and particularly alcohol-free crowds) do this early in the afternoon, which is not much. But you know, they had that polite and appreciative applause between songs, a sound most support bands are only too familiar with.
Alchemist was next up, and it was an experience which to this day I can only describe as mesmerizing. My theory is that Alchemist live in 1997 was — like all good things in life when you’re young — simply better when you first began experiencing it. MAD magazine? Heavy metal? Sex? These thing and so many more were always at their most awesomest and exciting when you discovered them for the first time.
I wish I could travel back in time and re-live that 45 or so minutes of watching them play live. One moment the crowd was going off to these huge, rhythmic, thick riffs and then it all went a little… tripped out… as the headbanging gave way to quiet interludes of synthy, fascinating, rich sounds interspersed with samples and effects in the background. And then back to the rhythmic headbanging.
Maybe my memory has been contaminated by my fondness of the event, but I could swear that the moshpit was swaying to the breakdown in Chinese Whispers (switch off your anti-stupid shield for a second and read the comments in that YouTube video).
And finally… Strapping Young Lad. If you like metal then hopefully this band needs little introduction. I’d owned the City album for a few weeks and had a particular fondness for the tune Detox, which also got a lot of radio play. In fact, repeated listens of this this tune on radio was what got me into this band. As I said, radio meant something back then.
But believe it or not, I’m not the biggest Strapping fan. I dig it and have all sorts of angsty nostalgic feelings form that time but personally I just don’t rate them up there with the likes of Iron Maiden. But boy, what a performance. Front-man Devin Townsend is the epitome of a showman and the awesomeness all started before anyone even played a riff. The entire crowd was kind of WTF-ed as he walked on stage and started miming to this weirdly melodic introduction, kind of like this one.
Anyway, Devin comes on stage and people are sort of looking at him weirdly with this odd sense of expectation as he does this routine. And then… it began. Oh dear Lord, did it begin. And keep going.
A veritable wall of white hot, crazy noise, with a rapidly balding long-haired Canadian dude doing his best to make everyone go utterly apeshit. Industrial strength, white-blue searing heavy metal of the utmost intensity.
One thing from this gig that I will never forget is my first and last ever stage dive. There was some surfing and diving going on and being young and energetic and extremely sweaty I figured it’d be a neat idea. Towards the end of the gig I finally managed to fight my way around to the front, climb on stage, look down at the crowd and think as I sailed through the air that oh man, this is the greeeeatest moment in my liiiAAAAAGGGHHHHH MY SPINE!!!!!!
Turns out the crowd caught my spread out arms; my knees, however, smashed straight into the concrete floor. I can still remember the snapping sensation in my back. So that was the last time I ever stagedived.
What an era, eh? Getting your head smashed in a circle pit. Almost breaking your spine after leaping from the stage. Kids going from zero to apeshit by the power of great music without any alcohol. Back then you wore your mosh-induced injuries as a badge of honour.
But here’s the best part.
This Strapping Young Lad gig which I TOTALLY ATTENDED was IMMORTALISED in the form of a LIVE ALBUM. That’s right, people. This gig was recorded and later released as No Sleep ’Till Bedtime i.e Live In Australia. And I was THERE dammit.
I SAID I WAS THERE!!!
I’d like to think that if you throw on a decent pair of headphones and carefully listen to this album you’ll hear, buried somewhere in the crowd noise, the soft cracking sound of a 15-year-old boy’s knees colliding with a concrete floor.