The first thing you notice when The Living End takes the stage for a live performance is the bass. It’s a stand up bass that you rarely expect to see outside an orchestra or a smoky jazz club, but here it is being hammered on to keep up with the punkabilly beats of this Australian rock band.
For those of you not familiar with the term “punkabilly,” think Buddy Holly with a chip on his shoulder and his hair slicked back into a pompadour hooking up with The Clash. But throughout the show itself at the Black Cat, I found myself trapped amongst a mass of punks doing the oddest thing for them at a concert: standing still. While there was the occasional mosh pit that broke out during the band’s most well-known songs, for a punk rock show the scene was surprisingly lacking the good natured violence I’d come to expect from kids with pink Mohawks and ripped up Ramones T-shirts.
I can remember being in middle school when The Living End’s single “Prisoner of Society” hit the airwaves in the States. It was one of my earliest introductions to punk music, and it was fast, loud, and the lyrics had deep, meaningful complaints against the mainstream (“cuz I’m a brat/ and I know everything”) that appealed to my thirteen-year-old self.
More than eight years later, The Living End is still touring and has released three albums since their spectacular self-titled with the song that had me bouncing around in the car waiting for my mom to finish with her errands. The band has gradually moved away from their punkabilly sounds towards a much more grownup sounding mix of pop punk and blue collar rock, especially on their most recent album “State of Emergency”. While the new album has received major airplay and has an impressive amount of tricky guitar solos, I wasn’t ever compelled to stand up and start bouncing around to the beat.
That was the real reason the audience wasn’t a swirling mass of legs and arms for the majority of The Living End’s set. The music just didn’t make you want to mosh. Say what you will about the awesomeness of its blue collar based lyrics or the pace of the nifty guitar riffs, the new album (and much of the last two) is nothing you want to mosh to. The lead guitarist can shout, cajole, and inspire his listeners to stand firm against capitalist factory owners trying to destroy the working class, but he couldn’t get us to do anything more than bob our heads, tap our feet, and give thunderous applause once the song was over. The show was great, but no one was dancing. The Living End seem to have turned a corner in their career, moving away from the speedy punk sounds that they built their name on and instead focusing on a much more mature, more technically based working class rock. The music is still wonderful to listen to, but the appeal of the live show is diminished.