Live Review: Royal Headache, Power, The Electric Guitars

15 May 2017 | 3:12 pm | Joel Lohman

"[Royal Headache] employ none of the typical tricks to get an audience excited: they are simply one of the most exciting bands in existence."

The Electric Guitars offer an extremely loud, droning squall heavily indebted to 1980s hardcore, Sonic Youth and Steve Albini's various projects. There is enough sonic diversity to maintain the interest of most early-comers but your feelings about this band will depend largely on how you feel about the phrase 'aural assault'. 

"G'day, we're Power," says Nathan Williams in his sleeveless denim jacket and mullet. Williams is a magnetic and muscular frontman, an amalgamation of Gareth Liddiard and Bon Scott and somehow blokier than both combined. He barks and yelps through driving, riff-heavy songs with a mad glint in his eye. This aptly named trio would have thrived in the days of pub rock. 

Royal Headache's singer Shogun stalks the stage like a caged animal before he and the band hurl themselves into Girls, a near-perfect burst which may remain the purest distillation of the band's weirdo soul/punk speedball. From the first note, half the audience mosh ferociously. The band employ none of the typical tricks to get an audience excited: they are simply one of the most exciting bands in existence. 

As if to contain the mounting chaos, the next song is a new one, the first of several tonight. Shogun has always been a remarkably soulful singer, a romantic and a classicist. He allows that substantial side of him to shine through more than ever on the new songs. Royal Headache continue to morph and resembles a punk band less and less, despite probably being the best one in the country. Loving Lady could be a Marvin Gaye song, with Lawrence Hall's wah-wah guitar and seductive lyrics. Shogun's introduction: "Here's a new one. It's fuckin' weird". Classic Shogun: shit-talking his songs in one breath and singing the shit out of them in the next.

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The band blaze through highlights from their debut (Psychotic Episode, Down The Lane) and almost all of 2015's High, which already feels like a contemporary classic of Australian rock, nearly every song a fist-in-the-air, shout-along anthem.  

Another new song is So Low, a gorgeous waltz which brings Shogun's heartache and vulnerability to the fore. Shogun is capable of fronting a fierce punk band and being a great Motown-style soul singer and it's absolutely exhilarating to watch him do both, often in the same song. There is zero artifice - just a pure expression of the joy and suffering contained in his songs. 

Royal Headache shows are upsettingly sporadic, and tonight's performance is visibly taking its toll on Shogun. By the end he's sitting mid-song, skipping entire verses and muttering breathlessly about how exhausted he is. After one more new song, the band leave the stage — "I may never sing again. Goodnight." — and the curtains close. It seems clear that Shogun has nothing left in the tank. Most of us are heading for the door when, out of nowhere, the band returns and tears into Stand And Stare. Just as quickly, the song is over and the band is gone again. Like everything about Royal Headache, it feels simultaneously slapdash, totally inspired and completely brilliant.