Monday night gigs have a real potential for falling flat, being the most notorious of school-nights to navigate in the ticket-selling biz. On top of that, the timing is made extra awkward with much of Melbourne’s university crowd still in the throes of their final exams and assessments, living in self-imposed exiles until the storm passes. Thankfully, tonight was no concern; Arrested Development have a very long history with Australian fans – with many of us having actually been in university when the band broke in the early 90’s – and daaaaamn, did they ever turn it out for us stalwart supporters and lifelong fans loosening our weathered old joints in the building tonight.
First up was local supports Rik-E-Ragga and Marvin Priest – both London-born Melbourne residents, the former having broke the Australian market with his appearance on The Voice in 2012, the latter being the son of English pop-reggae star Maxi Priest. On paper that might seem like a wild pairing, but these two couldn’t be more suited, with Ragga’s laid back swagger perfectly complimenting Priest’s gritty Soul-via-Grime-via-Dancehall delivery. With a 5-piece band in tow, the duo poured their all into 45 minutes of pure dub bliss, launching themselves around the stage with complete abandon for a slowly filling but incredibly receptive crowd. After very seriously warming up the venue with their personal brand of soulful-yet-gritty reggae stylings, they closed up with the ultimate crowd-pleaser – a double-header singalong of the Wailers classic ‘Three Little Birds’, followed by the Damian Marley dub monster ‘Welcome to Jamrock’. Who isn’t here for that? The crew absolutely murdered it (see what I did there?); I can’t wait to see what these guys can do on their upcoming joint release.
As the ever-loosening crowd nodding along to the sound-guy’s selections between bands finally began to pack out 170Russell’s perfectly self-contained dancefloor in anticipation, you could feel the excitement building in the air. Without warning the house lights dropped, the flickering stagelights only very barely illuminated the shadows of the stage crew scuttering about doing their final checks before BAM! The air fills with a heavy tribal beat and the endlessly electric Montsho Eshe storms into centre-stage on her lonesome to play the perfect hypebeast, dancing herself into a complete frenzy. The beat slowly picks up pace, moving from energetic to frenetic to downright explosive. The crowd follows suit as the band folds in around Eshe, shakin’ and whoopin’ and hollerin’ like it’s all they’ve been waiting to do. Just as the room reaches fever-pitch, our Master of Ceremonies for the evening Speech finally appears, fist raised in solidarity and ever-present protest, and with that the band launch into the classic Arrested Development banger ‘Give A Man A Fish’ and the venue explodes.
From there, the band absolutely burn through a blistering set celebrating 25 years since the release of their much-loved debut album 3 Years, 5 Months And 2 Days In The Life Of…, giving the crowd hit after hit after bonafide hit and only relenting long enough to give us a chance to catch our breath. Speech commands the stage like a 30-year veteran should, bombing around with unadulterated bombast like a still-fresh 20-something and addressing the crowd with an earnestness usually reserved for close friends and family. I feel that this inclusive attitude is so sorely missed in music these days, and it was a total breath of fresh air to feel so welcomed by a band that could have just as easily kept those imaginary barriers up and the crowd at arm’s length like every other two-bit touring act out there. It was a real family affair.
Tracks like the anthemic ‘Fishin’ For Religion’ and the sublime soul-stomp of ‘Natural’ had every single body present twisting and contorting along with the beat, while my personal fave ‘Dawn of the Dreads’ had the entire room nodding their heads like it was 1992 all over again. MC One Love and our resident hypelord Montsho Eshe both deserve a special mention for their insane performances tonight, pouring their all into every single moment with complete and utter sincerity. But it was AD powerhouse Tasha LaRae that stole the show (as always), her larger-than-life energy beaming from every pore, showering the crowd with endless love and affection as she absolutely slaughtered the stage. Her gigantic vocals, incredible presence and bottomless enthusiasm is so infectious that it could lift even the sourest soul from the deepest of funks. Much love Tasha LaRae, you fucking superstar you.
The band didn’t let the vibe slip for one solitary minute in the entire show, smashing through old and new numbers with the kind of energy you’d expect from a pack of 19 year olds “hepped up on goofballs”. They round out the set with the eternal fan favourite ‘Mr. Wendal’, and when it came time for the crowd to call for the obligatory encore they roared in honest anticipation. It felt just like back in the day – when it wasn’t a given that the band would return – and when they finally graced the stage once more to deliver their breakthrough single ‘People Everyday’, there wasn’t a set of lungs left in that crowd that wasn’t bellowing along with every single word. They finish up with a face-melting full-band rendition of the hard-backed singalong ‘Mama’s Always On Stage’, making sure to drain you of every last drop of energy you had in reserves before finally putting their instruments down and letting our poor bodies rest. But it didn’t end there – the entire 8-piece band stayed for as long as it took to shake every hand extended towards them, sign every item thrust under their nose and thank anybody and everybody within their reach. While the superfans stayed to meet and greet the band, the rest of us poured out into the streets to find anything to drink to quench our intense post-dance thirst (note: I can highly recommend a shit-ton of water and a cola slurpee the next time you’re in that predicament) and gather ourselves enough to make it home on some very, very worn out legs. Fuck that was a good night.