Nahko and Medicine For The People @ The Triffid

Philosophical rock

The Triffid is not quite full for Nahko and Medicine For The People, but pretty close. It is the American band's fourth trip to Australia in as many years; and obviously they have developed quite a following here, though I don't think they have received much radio play or industry push.

The appeal of Nahko Bear (and his band, though let's face it – they play a supporting role) seems to be mostly spread by word of mouth, and his is the sort of music you get personally attached to and rave to your friends about. His music offers a compelling mixture of confessional honesty, native American spirituality, political consciousness and music festival-style hippy positivity.

I think for most fans, the connection with Nahko is not based on the music alone – it is the philosophy and spirituality of the lyrics that we gravitate to. Tonight's show too verges at times on a religious experience – often in the crowd I witness people singing along with with arms raised, eyes closed, swaying side to side like they're in the pews at a charismatic christian revival meeting.

Considering the often earnest and weighty content of the lyrics, there is a kind of incongruence to the live show; where we get synchronised stage moves, flashy solos, and “crowd-pleasing” medleys of various hit songs.

At some point, maybe it was the fifth time a band member stepped to the front of the stage for their solo, and they motioned for us to clap our hands above our heads; I found myself wishing that Nahko and Medicine For The People aspired to more on this occasion than just another rock show with all the usual tropes.

I mean, there's nothing wrong with a big entertaining rock show, but there are already plenty of rock bands in the world – as far as I'm concerned the unique thing Nahko has to offer are those deeply affecting stories of someone from a broken background seeking personal healing and social change through connection to his culture and values like openness and forgiveness.

Disappointingly absent from the set were those startlingly, even shockingly, honest songs about Nahko's past like So Thankful and San Quentin. I know it must get awkward delving into your own pain like that in front of rooms full of strangers; but as well as being extraordinary songs in themselves, they provide a context that makes those other songs about finding inner peace more than just new age sentimentality.

The music stopped for a while, and the trumpet player gave a passionate and seemingly unrehearsed speech. “I hope you feel the realness and truth... We are a band of brothers... What we're doing is building bridges. There's a lot of dark things going on in politics, but we have the power to build sanctuaries in these shows; to build a movement.”

Nahko's music certainly can embody these virtues, but I just wondered whether the medium of the big rock show is really the best way to take these ideas from the lyrics and turn them into a movement that can challenge our current social conditions? If not, what would it require to do that? Was this show really a sanctuary for my friend who found herself the subject of unwanted physical intimacy from some creepy hippy guy feeling the good vibes?

I'm not blaming Nahko for the actions of every creepy guy (who after all, are at a lot of shows), and I'm sure many people went home thinking it was a great show – maybe even a transcendent experience.

But I personally found myself longing for more – the show that was hinted at in parts, especially the magnificent and epic closer Wash It Away; where instrumental prowess and showy stage presence were discarded in favour of a simple and personal song about how in the face of everything, a single communal experience can potentially change your life.

Andy Paine

Zed Facts

On 14 December 1988, 4ZZZ was taken off air and forcibly evicted from its UQ premises by the then student union executive, headed by one Victoria Brazil. The move prompted many previously apolitical students to take a firm stand against the move and to rally support for the station. While Zed was not to return to the premises its' volunteers had helped hand-build, unprecedented community support saw the station live to fight another day.