This decade has been a non-stop flashback-fest for those of us old and crusty enough to have come up through the early 90’s – from the NWA biopic putting gangsta rap back on the map, to the resurgence of Stussy and Santa Cruz gear, the fascination with the hip-hop stylings of yesteryear have seen a massive resurgence. Not to mention the tours. Ohh lordy, the tours.
Everybody from Faith No More to Vanilla Ice to the flippin’ Vengabus have rolled through town, so for us old enough to have a lifelong attachment to these artists but too young at the time to actually catch a show, we are finally getting to cross off so many of our childhood favourites from our “must see live before I explode and die” list.
In all honesty, I wasn’t sure heading to this show what kind of turn-out I was going to see but if last night proved anything, it’s that I was definitely not the only one left in town to still have Arrested Development on my list.
The crowd here was about as varied as they come; people of all ages, colours, shapes, sizes and backgrounds slowly trickled into Melbourne’s Trak Live Lounge Bar to catch one of conscious hip-hop’s earliest pioneers, and for a school night, the energy was incredibly high in the room.
With the crowd slowly loosening up their ligaments, openers Tom Showtime and DJ Maars tag-teamed the stage for over two straight hours on the decks, cutting together 90’s gem after 90’s gem to keep the vibe rising (Ini Kamoze‘s classic ‘Here Comes The Hotstepper’ got the 40-50 year olds working up a serious sweat). By around 10:00pm the energy got so live in the room that it started to actually feel like a club (complete with bouncers in “go-go cage” like platforms above either side of the dance floor), then just as the crowd started to get a little too saucy, down come the house lights.
Ho. Lee. DAMN. These cats came out and lit the room on fire! It’s been over twenty-five years since Arrested Development first started and they still hit the stage like they’re 21. The rhythm section kicked off the proceedings with this heavy, hi-tempo African beat as the backup singers bull-rushed the front of stage, dancing so hard you’d think a limb might just give way and fly off from sheer force. Waving an African flag overhead, Speech swaggered in from the shadows dressed like he’s off to his first day of school (backpack and all) and then BOOM. Everything stopped on a dime, the bass hit those opening notes for the ’92 classic ‘Give A Man A Fish’, and the whole place turned electric. The stage lit up like it was Christmas, with all 8 members of the band throwing some seriously high energy out into the now fully-packed venue. You could tell from the moment they started that every member came to leave everything they had out on that stage tonight, and even for a chilly Melbourne winter’s eve, the sweat didn’t stop pouring from any of them (or us) for the entire duration.
The band steamrolled through an hour and a half of straight-up classics showing no signs of ageing. The setlist focussing heavily on their seminal debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days In The Life Of…. which disappointed nobody. Speech and newer AD member One Love non-stop dominated the stage, giving endless love to the crowd and even pausing mid-song for hugs or selfies – and I mean the entire show, not just a one off. In fact, at any given moment you could see almost every member on stage either goofing off with each other, locking eyes with individual members of the crowd and singing along, sharing jokes with them, or just genuinely sharing that moment with them and building a real, honest connection between band and audience. It’s incredibly refreshing to see a group with such a legacy not be so precious with their art or themselves, willing to lower their guards and really connect with their audience in a way very few performers are brave enough to do.
Choice cuts like the Malcolm X Soundtrack rarity ‘Revolution’, the frenetic ‘Mama’s Always On Stage’ and the gigantic fat-bottomed groove of ‘Dawn of the Dreads’ got the crowd downright steamy, not one person seeming ashamed to be in their own skin or to fully embrace the moment. Strange to say but it’s such a rarity at shows now, everybody seems to be too reserved to cut loose these days. Here though, you had middle-class fifty-year-old couples dancing alongside twenty-year-old hip hop heads and neither could care less what the other was up to. When that classic opening wail from the iconic ‘Mr. Wendal’ hit, the crowd responded in kind and roared a wail right back in unison, reciting every lyric like they did in the mirror every Saturday morning as a kid. Even in the rare moments they played more recent tracks, that bond between the band and audience didn’t seem to wane at all. In fact, with every song that passed, the energy only ever seemed to continue building.
I thought it had finally peaked as they dropped their classic debut single ‘Tennessee’, and the front of stage swelled with bodies, but when they followed that up and closed the set with the gigantic 90’s anthem ‘People Everyday’, the whole room exploded. By the end note, not one body in any part of that building wasn’t drenched in sweat, every throat turned hoarse from singing along, every muscle throbbing like you just ran a marathon. That’s the way a gig is supposed to feel, and when done right, feels exactly like what Arrested Development had just dished up.