There are certain phrases that accompany most peoples’ weekends – “I’m never drinking again”; “That’s the best band I’ve ever seen”, and “That was the best night of my life” among them. These odes to fallen weekends of hedonism are more often than not common and hyperbolic, but a few weeks ago, I went to the best gig in the history of South African shows. I am not too proud to admit that it made me deeply emotional, and reaffirmed my lingering suspicion that words fall painfully short of describing the profound experience of hearing greatness.
The gig in question took place at the end of May at Rumours Lounge, one of Joburg’s most under-rated venues, nestled in a mall on the wrong side of the highway. Although I have had personal altercations with the owners (as a musician), it is clear that they have put in considerable effort into making the venue versatile and appealing to varied generations of fans.
As I pulled up, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. The parking lot was full of the punk gents and gypsy girls that I grew up with in Gauteng’s flourishing ska scene a few short years ago. The electricity in the air was palpable. This was a gathering of like-minded people who were at the show to dance, drink and have a good time. I’m sick of commercial sound whores ruining the purity of local events, but this time, muscle-clad “Hey Bru” jocks were nowhere to be seen. It was like a family reunion, without the touchy uncle. A month of excitement burst inside me – I was home.
The bill was quality all round. Although I missed the super-talented Fridge Poetry, I heard rave reviews from many a drunken fan. Next up, The Sunday Punchers. I have to admit that they seemed a little out of place given the fact that the evening was a ska showcase, but their greatly-improved brand of Celtic-inspired drunk punk definitely excited an increasingly boisterous crowd.
Slovenian ska-swing-punk geniuses Red Five Point Star were next to take the stage, some years after their first visit to South African shores. The most striking feature of their stellar performance was not their technical virtuosity, or their mastery of arranging tunes for such a large band. The most addictive element of the Red Five Point Star set was their energy. Dripping sweat and smiling wide, they led the willing on a musical journey that was a joy to hear, and a miracle to watch. Truly, this was a set that will never be forgotten. I feel genuine pity for those foolish enough to have missed it.
The evening ended with local ska icons Fuzigish playing a set that epitomises their track “Mad Circle”. Dressed in my “Grey Soup” vest, I let myself ago, and experienced the transcendental power of music for the first time in years. As the human hurricane engulfed me, I came close to losing my mind, delirious with the simple joy of listening to songs that have literally shaped me into the person I have become. A rare bass solo by William Bishop, the return of some of the band’s older songs, and being surrounded by my own crazy friends made this a night I will cherish. Objectively and subjectively, this was the best performance I have ever seen, trumping Lamb of God, Children of Bodom, Slayer and Babylon Circus. Yes, it was that good.
But that wasn’t the end. As the crowd filtered out, I stumbled upon the men from Slovenia, and invited myself to have some beers and a conversation. We discussed our shared love of the “powerful” (their words) Fuzigish, South African beer and women, and of course, ska. But what struck me most was their gratitude, as if my presence had made a difference, impacting them as much as they had me. They thanked my friends and I more than we thanked them, and were genuinely disappointed that the night had to end. In fact, they loved it so much that they played a free show at the same venue the following Monday. That love of performing and taking ska all over the world fuels them, and made me rediscover my love for music all over again. To them, and the rest of the fans who support the real scene, my unending thanks for restoring my faith in the power of sound.