Fly by the seatby Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi / 04.02.2014
There is something unsettling about seeing Francois van Coke of Fokofpolisiekar sitting down on stage. His stage persona has been carefully manicured over more than ten years of gigging with the band to allow him to do almost anything he wants in front of an audience. Anything, that is, except sit.
At their February 02 Kirstenbosch Sunset Concert Fokofpolisiekar broke some of the rules they had written for themselves. Seeing the often explosively buoyant, mic swinging Francois van Coke and guitarist bandmates John Hunter Eddington Kennedy and Georg Johann de Ridder try to keep the seats of their pants stitched to black, low back chairs was not the only unsettling feature of the performance though.
This must have started out as the tamest and out of character response by any Fokofpolisiekar audience in the history of the band’s performances. For the first half of the band’s set, the area in front of the stage remained completely abandoned. Clusters of picnic parties remained intact on the sprawling lawns. There were earnest, intense expressions on most audience members’ faces, as though some were searching the deepest cavities of their minds to find greater meaning in lyrics they had heard van Coke sing countless times.
Their bums were not rooted in the auditorium lawns in front of the stage out of a lack enthusiasm for the music though. The crowd sang “ek is honger en my klere stink” when the band performed their 2005 song Wintersdag By Die Seer off the Monoloog in Stereo album. They sang in disciplined unison, surprisingly close to being on key, with a few tattooed arms reaching into the air to punctuate the lyrics. It was refreshing to hear an audience sing along to choruses without the sometimes desperate sounding pleas from the band lead to “sing it with me now”.
There was something measured, something deliberate about van Coke’s struggle to stay seated. In the time he was seated his vocals sounded more regimented but with an eerie constrained passion. There were moments though, when particular chords from the fresh faced de Ridder swelled into a head flick, or when the bassist strummed licks that goaded him to push his voiceand his chair over. There were moments when van Coke’s face turned red with the strain on his diaphragm.
The turning point of the performance came a song after guitarist John Hunter Eddington Kennedy switched from his acoustic guitar to something that looked like it had been harassed by black duct tape in a dark alley. A swell of teenagers sporting a uniform of Fokofpolisiekar t-shirts rushed to the area in front of the stage when van Coke announced that they would try and play a few faster nommertijies. They were soon joined by a handful of tattooed 30 somethings and one 50 something looking man with a South African flag bandana on his head. Two songs later and the band was back at their regular guitar neck and microphone swinging, drumstick flicking antics. It felt like two performances had been staged by two similar but separate bands. Neither better than the other, and neither less capable than the other of moving the audience in just the way that they intended.
Images @ Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi