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Live Review: The Living End, Area-7 @ Festival Hall, Melbourne

6 November 2023 | 10:40 am | Bryget Chrisfield

Chris Cheney cheekily suggests we reclaim the “home ground of the Hillsong Church” as “the home of rock” tonight.

The Living End @ Festival Hall

The Living End @ Festival Hall (Credit: Tim Doig)

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Melbourne ten-piece Area-7, who originally formed as a Madness cover band called Mad Not Madness back in 1994, are welcomed to the stage by an already-packed house. “Has it really been fucking 25 years?” lead singer John "Stevo" Stevens wonders aloud, referring to the quarter of a century that’s passed since his band’s debut mini-album, 1996’s No Logic, dropped.

These ska-punk legends rip through a punchy set of ‘90s classics such as Second Class Citizen and the irresistibly ‘Strayan singalong Nobody Likes A Bogan (which incorporates a coupla snippets of songs by other artists, including Van Halen’s Jump and Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water). David 'DJ' Jackson – who favours playing his keyboard like a guitar, jogging rhythmically on the spot during the rare few moments his instrument actually sits on its stand – is an absolute hoot to watch.  

Stevens dedicates No Logic to Area-7’s late drummer, Dan Morrison, who passed away after an injury from a fall in 2020. Later, Chris Cheney dedicates Nothing Lasts Forever – which opens The Living End’s encore – to Morrison, as well as anyone else from their/our extended families who are currently attending The Great Gig In The Sky.  

Area-7’s brass section – Dennis "Ocker" O'Connell (sax), Warren Lenthall (trumpet) and Paul West (trombone) – flexes during their outstanding cover of The SaintsKnow Your Product, resplendent with arresting fanfare. Stevens gets the audience moving with requests to raise “one fist in the air” and jump, also running through the photography pit high-fiving front-row punters toward the set's close. Area-7 prove to be an appropriately high-energy warm-up act for their Rapido labelmates from back in the day: The Living End, who also released their chart-topping self-titled album 25 years ago. 

As such, The Living End are scheduled to perform their debut, ARIA-winning record – which spent 27 consecutive weeks in the Top 10 – in full alongside more hits and also some deep cuts. Commencing this special one-off hometown show at Festival Hall, Cheney cheekily suggests we reclaim the “home ground of the Hillsong Church” as “the home of rock” tonight. But this trio, which sprang from Wheelers Hill in suburban Melbourne, take a fair few tracks to get going. Don’t get me wrong, The Living End’s technical chops are undeniable from the millisecond they hit the stage. However, it’s not until about song five that we’re fully invested. “Roll ON! Roll ON!” – once the crowd hijacks Roll On’s repeated vocal intro, we’re away! 

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A video package paints a picture of the cultural climate The Living End’s debut album dropped into (e.g. Lady Diana’s tragic death, the rise of Oasis and Tiger Woods). This package also includes footage from an interview conducted by Channel V’s Jabba, during which The Living End quash the misconception they’re an overnight sensation by pointing out they’ve been playing together for seven years. It feels more like they’ve “swum out of a big, long bog”, one of them quips.  

“Well, we don’t need no one/ To tell-us-what-to-do…” – thanks to Prisoner Of Society, the opening track from the record we’re celebrating tonight, we have peak liftoff and even some crowd-surfing. Powered by the spirit of rebellion this song embodies, punters yell out every lyric as if they’ve reverted to their bratty teenage selves: “‘Cause I’m not listening to aaaaany/ Thing/ You/ Say!” Second Solution is another standout moment. Cheney then commends our lyrical knowledge, guessing we probably “poured over” this record’s accompanying “CD booklet”. 

To close out West End Riot, Cheney balances on Scott Owen’s double bass for a guitar solo, then makes like his axe is a machine gun and takes aim at the crowd. Pyros that look like flaming feather boas detonate on stage during Bloody Mary, much to the delight of the crowd. To open Monday, Cheney plays the guitar one-handed, his free arm raised skyward to emphasise this feat – such a show-off! The Living End then invites The Area 7 Horns to the stage to elevate Trapped. During Have They Forgotten’s intro, Cheney adds a cheeky Elvis nod: “Well, it’s one for the money/ Two for the show…” 

While introducing I Want A Day, Cheney reveals Owen was the only member of The Living End who managed to hold down a nine-to-five job, “Waverley Municipal Council Worker #235”, which came in handy when they needed parking fines to disappear. The main set closer, Closing In, is punctuated by the return of the aforementioned flaming-feather boa pyros – wow factor. 

During their encore, Cheney drains a beer while seeking crowd encouragement with his free arm, and White Noise is as mighty as expected. “Uncle Harry pissing in the ba-ath/ WHOOOO-OOOOH/ Pissing in the ba-ath…” – can you think of a more fun mass singalong than Uncle Harry? With its wild time-signature shifts, this evening’s closer also perfectly demonstrates The Living End’s sick synergy, which is what makes them such an unparalleled live act. Do they actually share a pulse, or what?