Ian Svenonius’ Chain And The Gang
w/ Beatcomber and Hex
Moon 1, Newtown, Wellington
Friday 17 March 2017
The sad irony of being a music reviewer is that I spend less time seeking out new music these days, and more time simply listening to music that people submit to me to review. Cry me a river, right?
So sometimes I need people to push me out of that bubble and recommend things that I wouldn’t usually come across on my own.
My mate Sam invited me to a Cody ChussnuTT gig during my student days. I was coming off an all-nighter, having not been able to find the time to fit in writing an essay around work and showing up to lectures. I was spent. God knows how I was even able to stand upright, having been without sleep for such a long period. But I somehow made it to Bodega for the gig, and I was so glad I did. I went in having never heard a single bar of ChesnuTT’s music, and left a complete convert. It wasn’t the type of music I would usually listen to, but the musicianship, the interactions, the energy – it was all electrifying.
The Chain And The Gang show at Moon was very similar. A friend suggested I come when I caught up with him a few weeks ago, so I figured I may as well. I chose not to even look up the band. Sometimes going in fresh makes the experience even more exciting if the act is good.
And oh they were good!
Ian Svenonius was the circus ringman – the off-kilter MC leading preaching his counter-cultural gospel. Bearing a wild mop of hair and a dapper pinstripe suit, he commanded complete attention and demanded audience interaction.
His band, three younger women also wearing the matching pinstripe outfits, laid the basic rhythm that set the template. The music was a hybrid of raw garage and punk. The trio did incredibly well, considering that they hadn’t been an established line-up for too long. Plus they had to be on their toes, watching Svenonius closely to take cues for when to change-up.
Anna Nasty led the music with her basslines. It all built off that bass. She reminded me of Uma Thurman in a few of her Tarantino roles, with a dark bob of hair and a deadpan expression. Ramona Flowers also to mind – maybe it was a garage/punk connection? It was obvious that Nasty was the musical anchor of the band. She had a great voice as well, meaning that the music sounded better live at the gig than in Chain And The Gang recordings I’ve listened to since.
Ex-pat Fiona Campbell had returned to New Zealand to support the band from behind the drum kit. She synced in tight, helping to push the simple beats that propelled the night. And Francy Graham rounded off the music on guitar. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t hear much guitar in the mix under the dominant bass, but Graham did have a few solos that sounded good.
The musicians played tight, yet simple rhythm while Svenonius dictated the show’s direction.
His character was all over the place, standing high on the shoulders of the crowd, or coming in close and pushing himself around the masses at the front. It made me think back to when I saw Damien of hardcore act Fucked Up do the same when opening for Foo Fighters at Western Springs. Svenonius was unpredictable. At times, beckoning us in close to share an exclusive secret, and other times crying his message out loudly, and always punctuated with wild shrieks and yells. He gave small introductions to each song (“We have wanted to come to Wellington for a long time. You want to know why? Why not?”) before signalling the start of each with “Kick it!”
It was very self-aware, ironic, and even self-parodying. The gospel of oppression. Down with liberty! Up with chains! Celebrate censorship, and trashiness and lack of vitality. A very backwards political statement that made sense through reverse-psychology.
The highlight of the night was the song “Mum’s The Word”. I struggle to think of the last time I felt so much joy. I got completely sucked in. The band started off their beat as usual, but then brought it down to the point that the music had stopped and Svenonius was just conducting the audience and instructing us to sing a repeated mantra. I had been exhausted half an hour ago, and now I was possessed by this energy that had me dancing to the music and singing along with the crowd in some inexplicable cult ritual. I had caught something contagious from the primal music and freaky frontman.
Chain and The Gang. Wow.
It was something else, that’s for sure. Call me a convert!