The Nation Blue at the Tote, 24-04-07
The Tote is crowded, absolutely fucking packed. People have spilled out from the bandroom to the public bar, making it difficult to get through the front door. I squeeze and lurch and edge my way through the room, conscious of my oversized backpack smacking short people in the head. The Nation Blue got a heap of press when their new album came out a month or so ago, and it has probably been receiving a fair bit of Triple J airplay ever since, but I had kinda hoped that the buzz would've died down a little by now. It hasn't, and my first piece of advice to The Nation Blue is this: start booking bigger venues. After two sold out shows in a row you should have learnt your lesson.
I'm hopped up on coffee, being a little bit silly, talking to people I don't know and making poor jokes. It's a weird crowd – some hardcore kids, some hipsters, some randoms in surfwear and torn jeans. Jen Jen is there and watches me talking to two young girls. She accuses me of having sketchy body language and ignoble intentions, but when she realises I'm standing the exactly the same way when I'm talking to her, she shuts the hell up. She arrived too late and doesn't have a stamp, so when King Brothers end I leave her in the public bar and head in to catch The Nation Blue.
Midway through the set singer Tom Lyngcoln brings his guitar to his face and crushes the strings into his forehead. His fingers are still working the chords and the feedback keeps coming, but when he drops it back down to his hips there are three neat lines of blood scratched into his brow. Between the pickups there are red smudges of DNA. But really, it was only a matter of time before things got messy. Earlier in the week I read an interview with the band in Unbelievably Bad zine, in which Lyngcoln claimed that his foremost concern in music was recapturing the sounds coming from
I'd been listening to the aforementioned new record all week, and was pretty psyched about seeing them, but had wondered how they would recreate the huge sound they generate on the record in a live setting. But somehow it works – I'm standing right next to the PA and the songs belt me like a bag of bricks. Bassplayer and co-vocalist Matt Weston is standing spreadlegged in front of me, hunching over a low set microphone to deliver his lyrics and screams. In any other band he'd be the lead singer, but his and Lyngcoln's vocals are similar and compliment each other well. Drummer Dan McKay, looking like a bogan from a country pub-rock cover band, doesn't flail around, but strikes the drums with brutal efficiency, jabbing hard like a boxer. They're tight from years of playing together, are stopping and starting on a dime, nodding signals to each other between crashing into the walls and falling into the crowd.
While I'm watching them I'm trying to figure out exactly how to describe their sound – the guitar and bass tones remind me of melodic hardcore, the song structure reminds me of post-punk, the vocals of Triple J friendly alterna-rock – but after the set, when Beard Matt suggests that the way Lyngcoln moves around the stage is 'Kurt-Chic', it all falls into place. This is grunge. Not watered down, Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Mother Love Bone and Soundgarden grunge, but grunge when it still knew that it was a direct descendent of hardcore, grunge that is self-aware but not self-indulgent, melodic and tuneful but not weak and glossy. They don't say much during the set, don't play an encore, walk straight off into the crowd and disappear into the sea of flannelette shirts and shoulderlength hair.
I walk outside into the cold, still fuelled by caffeine, ears ringing like bells. There is a bunch of kids there and I'm trying to build enthusiasm for some post-show, public-holiday-tomorrow dancing, but no one is up for it. Walking by, Brendan Hitchens asks me if I'm going to write about the show in my blog. We chat for a while before he's distracted by someone who he introduces me to as 'the guy who wrote about Wolfman Jack'. It seems that reviews of bad bands are always going to be more popular than reviews that say nice things. Perhaps I should have made it to this show earlier and caught Young And The Restless.