Leatherface - Live in Melbourne: Viva La Arthouse (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Live in Melbourne: Viva La Arthouse (2011)

No Idea Records

Punk is a culture obsessed with authenticity and the most authentic experience in punk is the live show. Records are nice but you want to know what things really sound like? You go to a live show. What happens if you can't get to a live show due to distance or a band breaking up? You get their live record silly! Most bands that have been together for a significant length of time tend to have an official live album or two. Leatherface have been around for over 20 years and although they have done three separate live releases (Your Choice Live Series split with Jawbox, Live In Oslo and Discography Part One) none of them are currently in print to my knowledge and none have been released since their reformation. That is where Live in Melbourne: Viva La Arthouse comes in. Recorded in Melbourne, Australia on the band's 2010 Stormy Petrel World Tour, no one except for bassist Greame Philliskirk knew about the recording and it makes for a spontaneous and fun set.

As one might expect the set list focuses on the band's most recent LP, The Stormy Petrel, representing six of the 19 songs, with the band's classic Mush getting the second most play with five songs. What's amazing is the band sounds just as tight and often times more energized than they did on equivalent recordings from 15 years ago. Listen to the version of "Not Superstitious" here and then to the one on Discography Part One and Frankie Stubbs practically seems asleep on the older recording. If you are worried about seeing the band live now after all these years, Viva La Arthouse serves proof positive that not only does the band still have it, they are probably putting on some of the best shows of their career.

As the for the recording itself, it is professional-sounding but without a million studio overdubs that would just make it sound like alternate LP takes. The crowd noise is left relatively intact and Dickie Hammond's sprightly stage banter sneaks in. The mix is great as you can here the vocals as clearly as you are going to with this band. The drumming is relatively distinct and most importantly you get the classic dueling guitars of Stubbs and Hammond which had been missing from the band in recent years. The bass might be a wee bit low but it is definitely there.

One thing that holds the record back somewhat is the tracklist. When you hear a live set, the things that make it stick out are things like unusual LP tracks, songs never recorded in studio, alternate arrangements, obscure b-sides and surprising covers. I understand that this album wasn't planned so they didn't set out to create the best live document around and thus played a somewhat standard set of new stuff and classics. We do at least get to hear a somewhat humorous rendition of Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt." Even though it is expected that the band play songs from Mush, it would have been cool to hear something like "Baked Potato" or "Bowl of Flies" that don't appear on the other live records like all the other Mush cuts here. There was a great opportunity to be the definitive later era recording live album as all the other live albums were recorded before The Last but aside from The Stormy Petrel all of the post-'93 music here gets about a song and that is a real shame.

Given that all the other live albums by Leatherface might be kind of hard to acquire I suggest you pick this up. It isn't exactly the best live representation possible but it is a solid collection of songs and a great performance. However, if you can get a hold of a copy of the Live in Oslo LP I suggest you do as it shows early Leatherface at its best. But get this for the later songs too.