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Adam Green + Straight Arrows

(16 Dec 2008: Oxford Arts Factory — Sydney, Australia)

We’d forced Grant to come out to this gig, and we’re all dreading his reaction. He can normally be found listening to some banging tech-house, grooving to Roots Manuva, or head-banging to Tool, so we were all convinced that the twee filth that Adam Green does so well would go down like the Hindenburg. But from the moment Green sprang onto the stage, shirtless but for a hot pink leather jacket, we knew this show was going to be special.


It all began earlier in the evening as we lined up on Oxford Street, looking slightly out of place amongst all the hipster kids. After suffering through the seemingly endless rigmarole required to get into the Oxford Arts Factory, we entered to find a surprisingly small crowd politely watching local support act Straight Arrows.


I say politely, because although the group has a number of highly promising elements, the overall effect is less than the sum of its parts. Maybe it’s because they fly from killer pop hooks to spending an entire five minutes jamming on a single chord, or maybe its because half the band looks like they should be teaching your younger brother’s history class during the day, and the other half looks like they should be attending it. Although I was unaware of it at the time, Straight Arrows are something of a Sydney indie supergroup, a malaise that makes itself apparent in the overall effect of their show; too many cooks and all that. Having said that, there was more than enough to keep me interested during their set, whetting my appetite for the main event.


Green exploded onto the stage like a man possessed by the slightly more epileptic ghost of Ian Curtis and the latter-day (sequinned) spirit of Elvis. He gyrated around the stage like nobody’s business, pouting and making druggy eyes at the ladiez, and then launched into the hurricane of “Emily”. Although I was enjoying the spectacle immensely I was slightly worried about Grant, and so my eyes darted nervously over to his section of the dance floor. To my utter surprise and vicarious delight he was dancing his little heart out, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Green was performing what Grant usually refers to as “fluffy music.”


It didn’t seem to matter how diffuse the energy that Green was throwing at the audience was, there was just so much of it that you couldn’t help but be hit square in the face by a sticky glob of it. And if his lyrics are anything to go by, this is a metaphor that Green would not be entirely uncomfortable with. Filthy lyrics and single entendre are Green’s stock-in-trade, and he maximises their impact by singing them with treacly sweet sincerity. Case in point: When he sings, “She was a man with herpes,” you actually feel for that hermaphrodite with an STD, which I think you’ll agree is no mean feat.


And this brings me to what I feel is the utter genius of Adam Green, which is his astounding ability to wrench meaning and heartbreaking emotion from such utter nonsense. Mostly he achieves this by starting with a plausible assertion, then slowly unravelling it around a series of increasingly bizarre yet relevant scenarios. Consider the following lyrics from perhaps his most celebrated track, “Jessica”:


“Jessica Simpson, where has your love gone? / It’s not in your music, no.”


So Jessica Simpson is a vapid media whore with not an ounce of true emotion in her music. Fair enough, I think we can all agree. However:


“You need a vacation to wake up the cavemen and take them to Mexico”


is a bit weird, no? And yet somehow you feel Green’s pity for this caricature of a human being, and for the predicament that she and artists like her leave us in as a society. Which is all neatly summarised in the following lines:


“Jessica, Jessica Simpson, you’ve got it all wrong: your fraudulent smile, the way that you faked it the day that you died.”


Somehow it all makes perfect sense to me, and is set to some of the loveliest, almost nostalgic melodies to come out of the modern era. All night I found myself comparing this show, with it’s almost-full crowd of enthusiastic supporters, to the Kimya Dawson show I saw earlier this year which was also packed to the rafters, and Green came out streets ahead. Where Dawson (Green’s former partner in the Moldy Peaches) had been staid, with half-clever lyrics sung flatly over what seems like the same tune for hours on end, Green was dynamic and enthralling, careening drunkenly from one end of the stage to the other. Dawson sat on a chair and strummed drably for the entire show; Green ripped the pink leather jacket from his torso, tore it into strips and hurled them into the crowd, who grasped for it as though it were a piece of the true cross.


So I snuck a look back over to Grant, only to find he hadn’t stopped dancing for the entire show. It was impossible not to, Green is just irrepressible. In fact there was not a single dissenter amongst our gang of five; all were in agreement that this had been one of the gigs of the year, regardless of what any of us had thought of his music before the show. I had to be at work at 9am the next day, but was too excited for such banalities as home and sleep. So we crossed the road to a dank bar, played Guns N’Roses on the jukebox, and drank into the wee hours until the crushing reality could be held at bay no longer.

Media
Adam Green - "Jessica Simpson"
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