I have been waiting for this moment for nearly seven years: a Living End concert. I have never gotten the opportunity to see my favorite band of all time, yet they had come to my locale, New York, twice since 2001. The band can sell out 100,000 seat arenas in its native Australia, but has yet to crack the U.S. market. After buying tickets the moment they went on sale, the period of anticipation begun. What will they play? Will I meet them? What could I say to my idols?
Then the day of the show, August 8th, 2006, came upon me quickly. On the train into the city, my mind was aflutter over what would transpire. I was thinking a mile a minute. Anxious, I took the 1:39 train out of Farmingdale, Long Island to get to New York City by 2:30 P.M. for a show not scheduled to begin until 8:00. I am going to try to meet the band, if possible. I ponder the possibility of a life dream coming true. I am also going to the show with 15 of my closest friends from home. I traversed the short walk from Penn Station to the Avalon (the venue), and arrived around 3:00. A towering bus loomed over some of the friends and I that took the early train. Another one called, saying he was on his way in from Cape Cod, and wanted to see if I could get another ticket for him. This required further travel, to the Irving Plaza Box Office; I made the purchase, a mere 17 dollars for a night’s worth of wondrous excitement.
On the way back, we grab some food, just so we will not have to worry about it later. We eat next to the venue, an omnipresent former church turned nightclub and concert venue. Featuring impressive tower structures, cathedral ceilings, and a foreboding fence around it (with a large sign giving a number to call if one witnesses any illegal activity), this appeared as if it was going to be a day unfulfilled. Or was it?
After about a half-hour, Living End upright bassist Scott Owen wandered out of the looming bus, mumbling about getting dry cleaning and doing his laundry. He tried to sneak away from a group of drooling fans, but to no avail. Questions were indeed asked and answered. Next, guitarist Chris Cheney walked out with a glass in his hand. Compliments abound, he then identified his drink as tea, and a friend of mine took the liberty to give some history to the invention of tea. Cheney was clearly impressed, but drummer Andy Strachan walked out of the bus quickly, looking to get ready for a sound check. Quickly, I ask Cheney about his lyrics and inspiration in his more politically motivated songs, specifically the ones concerning East Timor and immigration (“Don’t Shut the Gate” and “Revolution Regained” off of album Roll On), and he replies insightfully and extemporaneously, saying that the region is blowing up again, and both sides are taking casualties again. He says that he wants to talk more later on, and apologizes for his necessary departure, but he must go to do the requisite sound check.
From the extreme back of the venue where I met the band (!), we walked to the area with security guards back towards the front of the venue. People (obviously affiliated with the bands playing) were milling around, going in and out of the venue, and when the door opened, one can clearly hear the sound check going on (Cheney kept saying the word “Yeah!” into the mic, and then they checked “Roll On” and new single “What’s on Your Radio?”). This was shaping up to be the greatest day of my life, but it only got better.
During a lull in the sound check, I wander over to a short woman with dyed red hair and a dark dress. It is Rae, the band’s manager. She is someone that I have also dreamed of meeting. I am a member of the band’s message board, and she, as well as the band, is intimately involved with the board. I introduce myself as the rabid fan that posts on the board often, usually requiring a response from her. She instantly says hello, and we strike conversation, but it was substantive enough to elicit quite interesting responses. A friend of mine joins me (one of the rabid ones, and as much involved in the board as I) in asking about the U.S. tour, about promotion, the new label, etc. She gives a much more cynical response than the upbeat band members, saying that they are losing money on this tour, that the tour is not going as well as intended (venues not selling out, etc.) and that the label is supportive, but they can only do so much because of the funds required for promotion. The Living End was recently signed in the U.S. to Billie Joe Armstrong’s (Green Day) label Adeline Records. I ask if that the new signing can rid the image that they are a Green Day rip-off band and she sardonically replied that they are always and will forever be derided as such in the U.S.
After quite the interview, we wander back to the area where we can hear a sound check. We (a few of my friends as rabid as myself and I) started a conversation with someone milling back and forth, and this person happens to be a journalist working for CMJ (College Music Journal). She is extremely polite, and tries to get us in for the rest of the sound check. After going in herself, and coming back out, she says to just stay in the corner and be quiet, no one is stopping her or anyone else from entering.
Thus, we go in quietly, and walk to the far corner, by the stairs to a balcony area. We are treated to a private sound check; there are no other fans present, only the bands, their managers, and their roadies. The sound blaring, the Living End tore through new track “Into the Red” with a force I have never before witnessed. The band is clearly on today. Then, they play a punchy rendition of “We Want More,” another song off the band’s new album State of Emergency. More noodling commences, and my friends and I are mesmerized. The sound check abruptly ends, and Chris jumps off the stage, recognizing us rabid fans, and saying that there “was too much noise.” Drums are sound checked for another couple of minutes, and then it abruptly ends. We cannot fathom meeting the band, let alone a private show!
After the sound check, we quietly exited the venue, giddy at the fact that we witnessed something that no one else got. Then again, no one is nearly as dedicated to the band as my friends and I are. After exiting the venue, we walk back again to where we met the band members before. Suddenly, Rae appears, and she appears flustered. I ask her some more questions, including one about playing a late-night television show for more promotion. She says that I think that it is too easy to book the show, because Conan O’Brien invited them to play this Friday, but they are going to be in Atlanta already. It would cost them five thousand dollars to do the show. Utterly shocked, I cannot respond, but I do not have to -- Scott comes out and speaks with us some more. He is down to earth, just like the rest of the band. We ask him why he continues to play, despite a marriage and child. He responds, “We do this 'cos it’s fucking fun, otherwise there is no point to playing!” I compliment his songwriting, and say that his songs should be featured more on their albums (Cheney is the chief songwriter). Scott proceeds to thank me, and I mention his song “Stay Away from Me” (It’s For Your Own Good EP) as one of my favorites they ever recorded. Continuing on the same vein, my friend asks Scott what his lyrics are during the backup vocals of the chorus. “Come to think of it, I don’t remember.” He had no idea. At least his fans are not the only ones confused. Scott and Rae retire back to the bus.
It is now nearly 6 o’clock, and we want to be in the front row, against the stage, for the show. We head over to what appears to be the main entrance. 15 of us together, all fully intended on experiencing the show from way up close. We are the first in line, and that does not surprise us. Legions of fans follow, and they have no idea for what they are in store.
We wait for just over an hour, until doors open, which is scheduled for 7 P.M. Tickets scanned, we all walk together and blanket the area directly against the stage. We will not move. The venue is startlingly empty for a long while. The Avalon appears uninhabited for the first act, Read Yellow, who takes the stage at about 8 P.M.
They are a four-piece band that created a wall of noise unparalleled for the rest of the show. They are loud, they are raucous, and they cannot be stopped. The band is uncompromising, and they have been compared to Rites of Spring and At the Drive-In. They hail from Amherst, MA, and all were students together at UMASS. The band calls for a ton of audience participation, including offering their instruments to the crowd in the front row. One takes a tambourine and knocks away. Another is given a guitar, and he hits a few chords heavily laden with distortion. The lead guitarist and vocalist is chaotic, dancing, and all over the place, and he brings a cymbal down to the crowd, hands out some drumsticks, and the ones with the sticks bang away at the drum. The 30-minute set pummeled me, and was completely unexpected.
After a 30-minute or so intermission, the next band (the Lashes) appear to be ready for their performance, but a troupe of rappers come out instead. They perform for about 10 minutes, taking what sounds like they were rapping over previously recorded songs blaring over the speakers. It is more chaos, and it does not make any sense. The rappers prance around the stage as they proceed to introduce the next band, but no one can hear it. The Lashes take the stage, ready for their set as the rappers exit.
The Lashes, from Seattle, WA, are a band that needs a new vocalist. The musicians in the band are quite good, putting forth a power-pop sound the Strokes, Weezer, and Hot Hot Heat would all approve. However, the vocalist belongs with the Starting Line or the Academy Is…. His whiny (and luckily, mostly inaudible) vocals are as pathetic as his image. He walks, sings, and acts like a princess. Exemplifying this point, after the first song, the plug on his mic comes out from the monitor. He stands there, hand on hip, clutching the plug, but unwilling to hook it back in. He waits for a sound guy to do it for him, and follows by saying, “An unplugged mic won’t ruin my night.” He proceeds to prance around as a posturing emo prom queen, snapping his fingers and making one particularly stupid dance move. Between songs, he says (audibly whiny) that his band has the number one single in America, and someone in the crowd yells that he is a liar. The band could have that number one single, but only if they fire the vocalist.
After another 40 minutes (but what seems like an hour), the lights go down, and the headliners, the Living End take the stage to thunderous cheers. The venue is finally packed out, and the crowd is in for a real treat. I am finally experiencing something I’ve waited for almost 7 years. “We are the Living End,” Chris Cheney bellows to the crowd. They come out guns cocked and loaded, opening their electrifying set with a rousing version of their hit “Roll On.” Scott Owen is standing on his upright bass. Chris Cheney is noodling on his four thousand dollar White Falcon gem guitar. Andy Strachan, a drummer I genuinely doubted, is pounding the drums like he will break through them. This scene replicates for nearly an hour, while the band pounds convincingly through singles “What’s on Your Radio?” and “Who’s Gonna Save Us?.” They rev up the energy for show stoppers “Into the Red” and biggest hit “Prisoner of Society,” which sounds more punchy and punk rawkin’ than it has since its 1998 debut. They also slow the tempo a few times, including its political tour de force, the wrenching “Wake Up.” They also introduce their sarcastic “Tabloid Magazine” by asking the crowd if they like Hollywood (the answer was a resounding no) and re-naming the song “What’s Wrong with Paris Hilton?.” During the oft-played hit “All Torn Down” there is always an insane jam session, and tonight wasn’t any different. It starts out mellow enough, but it builds and builds until a loud climax with Chris hammering at the guitar, and he gets a bottle of beer, and begins playing with that in his left hand. Hitting the climax of the jam, he arches his back, and chugs the foamy Corona with a jubilant smile on his face.
The band has a stupendous stage presence, engaging the crowd by traversing the stage with their instruments in tow. Scott is widely known for lifting the huge bass over his head, as well as standing on it, and tonight is no exception. Fists pumping in the air, big choruses, this band is made for a live show. They symbolize the ideal blood, sweat, and rock band. This show was clearly something the band was revved up for, as Scott is bouncing about like never before. The same can be said for Chris, who wails at his guitar in an unrelenting manner.
Suddenly, and regrettably, they say goodbye, and leave the stage. But they are known for doing encores, and again, this is no exception. This time, they bring on the stomp with “Uncle Harry,” an ode to former drummer Trav Dempsey’s alcoholic uncle. The band stops for a second, and then jumps into its heavy bank robbery tale “Hold Up,” in which they add a huge bass solo, and a call-and answer session between Chris and Andy. During the jam session, Scott and Chris inch closer and closer as they play. Suddenly, the bass neck dips, and Chris stands on the bass! They try to out-pound their respective instruments during this momentous event, but one cannot outdo the other. Chris announces that they have one more to do before the lights go out, and it involves a “West End Riot!” They play the hit song from their self-titled debut, but not before Cheney stops the song, and begins to mute the chords on his guitar, and introduces the band to the constantly moving, cheering, and singing crowd. He introduces Scott Owen, the master of the double bass, which he puts down, and stage dives into the crowd. Mass hysteria ensues, but Scott does not fall. Chris introduces Andy who bangs out a drum solo, and drinks a ton of water, and spits it into the air as he plays. Lastly, Chris introduces himself, and then a short jam starts, quickly brought back to the ending chorus. The electrifying, mesmerizing, and enchanting set has finally come to a close, and the band says goodnight.
I leave with a ton of memorabilia as well. I take the Living End set list, a drumstick thrown, and the beer bottle that Cheney both played with and drank from.
- Roll On
- What’s on Your Radio?
- Who’s Gonna Save Us?
- Into the Red
- All Torn Down
- We Want More
- Pictures in the Mirror
- Wake Up
- Black Cat
- Prisoner of Society
- Tabloid Magazine
- E Boogie (instrumental)
- Second Solution
- Uncle Harry
- Hold Up
- West End Riot