We all came to get real. The kiddos came to mosh—or something of the sort. The band came to tell some truths. It was bound to be an evening of unfettered, undiscriminating punk rock snark. During setup, Gareth Liddard assessed the crowd with a pick in his teeth and a devilish smirk, grinning his approval at the brimming energy of teens assembling at house right. Five bucks says they made their way to the band via King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, a darling of 13-to-19 year-olds working hard to revive the old fashioned mosh pit, and whose Flightless Records label has issued the band’s first two albums – A Laughing Death in Meatspace in 2018 and Braindrops just last month. Another fiver says the kids weren’t terribly familiar with the material, but heard there would be moshing on a Friday night, so count them in. One more cool Abraham Lincoln says the designated driver was deemed so by virtue of his having a license and a car, not a one of them of anywhere near drinking age.
But the kids’ youthfulness made them a standout, exceptional in age as well as vibrancy, amid an otherwise older, more reserved crowd. Several times throughout the night, Liddard called the rest of us out—how can the rowdiest among you be the ones too young to get drunk at a show? Tropical Fuck Storm is meant to stir the embers, and if you’re not getting fired up, then you’re not paying attention—to lyrics painting a dystopian present/future of self-professed “fake news,” based on fantasy castings of contemporary horrors—the “oompa loompa with the nukes” and “shock and awe with an Intel core.” Their disturbed visions, like cryptic old folk tales, have at their root a kernel of veracity about dark souls and stubborn resistance, timeless stories of power and greed and heart and confrontation. Liddard, Fiona Kitschin, and Lauren Hammel took turns spinning yarns, the ladies playing a more central vocal role on tracks from the latest album, while drummer Erica Dunn stoically and steadfastly grounded the tales in throbbing reality.
Some fantasy tropes contend that humans’ wide-range binocular vision distracts from seeing a singularity of truth. With her bass swaying hypnotically side to side, Kitchsin’s single eye peered out from asymmetrical bangs, laser vision boring holes through the crowd, focusing intently, one receptive brain at a time. The yang to her yin across the stage, Hammel’s bangs-framed wide eyes bugged out like a little sister jacked up on too much sugar and caffeinated soda as she switched from guitar to keys, while Liddard smiled with amusement at the trivial human folly of it all. Where Kitchsin and Hammel play the chorus to Liddard’s lead, the effect is something like a proper Greek chorus, that immutable little voice on your shoulder, giving voice to what you subconsciously know to be true—chiming “Promises, promises, promises” on the subject of “plan’s we’re either going to Mars or war” and forewarning, admonishing, grilling “So why do I feel like I’m dying?” in retort to the idea that “life’s beautiful.”
Are they paranoid delusions or inspired prophecies? Tropical Fuck Storm advocates speaking truth to power, taking a good hard look at the cost of modern convenience, shaking yourself out of complacency and recognizing the cardinal sins driving so many problems of the modern world. Studio recordings use the sharp dissonance of the lead guitar to chafe the senses to attention, and it’s critical to the dynamic of their storytelling. Unfortunately, mixing that evening seemed to throw a blanket over Liddard’s guitar, more muffled than shrieking, so that everything blended a little too softly, begging for that vinegary smack of discord that betrays the mood of the lyrics.
That five bucks on their lack of exposure to the band rests on the fact that the mosh-hungry kids weren’t quite sure how to pace their energy. Without the guitar’s guidance, they took every opportunity to get riled where they could find it, making mountains of emotional molehills. At one point, they excitedly yanked off their shirts, ready for a sweaty throwdown, only to find themselves chilly under the air vents during an unanticipated lull in the story. But bless them for their creativity—just as soon as they had disappointedly put their shirts back on, the hint of tension resumed, the pace heightened, and soon enough the teens were pogoing, swarming, and even circling with arms round one another, much to the band’s approval. And that pit was consensual af. They looked after one another, checked to see that no one had crossed a line of aggression or involved anyone who didn’t want involvement. They hugged, smiled, and conscientiously tossed elbows. It was precious, and Gareth Liddard beamed at them with appreciation.
TFS demonstrated the fruits of their extensive international touring labor with a tight, kinetic execution and satisfying setlist, selecting choice cuts from two albums plus some B-sides and surprises, including a Divinyls cover. Sadly, there was no “Antimatter Animals,” but in retrospect, it wouldn’t have suited the mood, which was less agitated “FUCK YOU” than wistful “How far are you from knowing your heart?” more twinkle than fire in the eye, more compelling than admonishing. Listen closely to TFS and you’ll see a Bosch painting of modern sociopolitical perversions: scenes of “Waves on thirsty beaches/Where goats with human faces/And the skeletons of horses/They roam the fourth dimension” or a hotel in Rio where “We were on a first name basis/But then he had the kind of features/Where you can’t recall his face.” But seeing the band makes clear: there’s heartbreak driving the snark. The criticism comes from disappointment, a frustration with what could be but keeps getting corrupted. Fortunately, it’s nothing a little slamming and laughing in meatspace can’t fix, at least for a night. | Courtney Dowdall