Chain & The Gang @ The Foundry

Paradoxically genuine...

Who are Chain & the Gang? A video of them suggested something they were a bit like Portlandia, though the lyrical content was something else. The classically cool American band intrigued me with their smug pop songs and layers of irony. 

Sipping Barnsey beer at The Foundry, (that was I somehow upsold from the $5 cans), the applause for Brisbane support I Heart Hiroshima caused me to spill beer down my singlet. I Heart You was something towering grade 12's in quirky op shop clothes would say, in the days of AOL and dial-up.Despite having associated I Heart Hiroshima with that period of time, their style didn't sound that much different from what it did when I was fifteen. Not the buzz of it's trendy heydey, surely, but a nice change from the usual. This time they played some of their oldest songs and this newer song that reminded me of the Kinks, among others. Subtler signs of high school yesteryear came to the forefront with Neutron something and a slight bashfulness I haven't seen in any newer local band (“This one's more practiced..”) but the main impression was of a band with the integrity of sticking to their roots in the best possible way.

For one thing, this newer, more 'rock' song highlighted how not traditionally 'rock'/macho their presence is, which is a good thing. The quiet respect for the audience, the sober energy of well-practiced concentration and the drummer flawlessly reverting between feminine and masculine vocals consolidates everything that was socially/culturally subversive – and still is important – about their kind of music. Maybe it's why seeing them is plain pleasant. On the flip side, their professionalism seems in principal pretty middle class and half-stoic. Not in a bad way – more like a sensitive but disciplined male primary school teacher (tough job). Not overthrowing the whole system or something but nice, however you feel about that. They also feel“born too late” too, funnily. 

Chain and the Gang had this middle aged, middle class fan-base that I don't ordinarily see at The Foundry. Ticked the boxes for quality showmanship, but what endeared me most from the get go was frontman Ian Svenonius' words. I've never seen a band as simultaneously silly, serious and purely entertaining.

“It's just like the movies!” By this stage I'd sauntered through the unusually thick, but politely dispersed crowd near the front and my personal space became a stream of elbow nudges and excited comments, and finally, dancing with what seemed like most of the crowd. Pure charismatic energy and cohesive discipline. Without a TV/media gaze, this is a different thing to witness altogether. They are actors, for sure, and I couldn’t quite tell if the eyes of the serious-looking bassist and guitarist betrayed some kind of personal tensions but it all played into the act, anyhow, and I thought of how tough it must be to be American, especially lately. Stern faces and back-up vocals, shrieking Svenonius the centre of this classic guitar, bass & drums four-piece all made up and neatly arranged in pinstripe suits, letting out all of the pompous, gratuitous, very un-Brisbane rock cliches – seemed paradoxically genuine. There was a certain dignity there, dispelling a vague suspicion that they'd be about the kind of irony that says, “we're cooler than this shit, but we'll do it anyway but half-arsed and look tense so you know we're smarter”. They are not that, they're confident and respectable actors. Perhaps crucially, any cynicism was counter-balanced in political banter that seemed like it would come from somebody who is deeply reflective and not too 'me, me, me'.

Down With Liberty and It's a Hard, Hard Job (Keeping Everybody High) aren't exactly Discord-style Rock and Roll Bullshit sarcasm (“yeahhh gonna take some drugs man rock and roll”), impromptu gymnastics and crowd engagement, jumping off the stage with us common folks, and TURN OFF YOUR TV backdrops. 

All-in-all it was fun, and I am intrigued. Never seen anything like it. People were lining up getting their pictures taken at the end! Haha, like the movies. Ended up lingering for ages in the back room with a friend I assumed had the authority to be there, kind of self-consciously, which the band all responded to with great patience and friendly reciprocity. Despite any slightly cynical detachment – I try not to be easily impressed or intimidated by fame – I guess I was kind of starstruck in a way too. In the most egalitarian way, I hope, though they are objectively superior in terms of work ethic and talent (and probably wanted rest?).

I can't completely figure them out in social/political/historical/philosophical terms but they seem basically good. Not alienatingly cool, not boring, just a mix of fascinating novelty and potential camaraderie. I'm probably understating Svenonius' significance in defining the kinds oftensions/contradictions that effect underground music and music people in general. Very curious. You can come here and dance in front of the Wickham with a bunch of Gold Coast millenials, trying to eat your felafel kebab and drink your water, decrying American cultural imperialism on an international tour and any hint of irony in that remains unjudged because we like you heaps. It was fun and the band & everybody was kind (when they didn't have to be, really) and a good book's in the post.

-Katy M w/ edits and annotations by livereviews 

Zed Facts

When 4ZZZ's original space was being built by hand under the Schonell Theatre at Queensland University, a baby grand piano from the theatre above was bricked in to Studio 3. We don't know how they got it out...