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The Elusive Beast

by Chad Liam Polley / Images by Justin McGee / 05.05.2011

Let me set the record straight. I don’t like Tanz. I don’t like Tanz at all. Firstly, it was voted one of the premiere live music venues in JHB in both 2009 and 2010. Secondly, it’s positioned, geographically, in the middle of a strip mall. Thirdly, and this may cause one to jump with a sense of joy, it’s right next to a bladdy Hooters. It’s also littered with posters of Arno Carstens, one of which has been defaced by some rebellious genius. I discuss these reasons and more as I sit at a bench at the Zoo Lake Bowls Club with McGee, the sweaty photographer, drinking my cheap draught and smoking my expensive cigarettes.
 I stub one out.
“Listen, it’s just not fucken rock ‘n roll, okay? I mean… the sound is so good…”
“Well, then it is good then?“
“No! It’s, well, it’s too good. I’d rather see a band at, like, the Bohemian, where the sound is terrifically crap… It’s just, gritty, you know, not surgical, dirty. Like rock ‘n roll… Plus…” I light another fag. “Plus it’s at the edge of the world, fucken Fourways.”
McGee sighs.

The Shadowclub, Dead Alphabet, Columbus

When we drive in, McGee points at the Hooters. “Let’s go there.”
“Yeah, I told you it’s right here; let’s go look at over-tanned titties, eat barbeque chicken wings and drink pitchers of beer.” Fuck yeah.
 We park and open one of the quarts McGee bought to survive the night. “Look, the owl’s eyes on the Hooters sign look like titties.” McGee says getting distracted by the orange signs and the large amount of beer he has just poured all over his crotch. He’s going commando tonight. I laugh, we down, we go inside.
“If the bands are crap let’s just be men and go look at the titties.” Says McGee wisely.

Tanz is crap. Holy hell it’s crap. A bunch of fucken tables littered around the dance floor, just so, so it restricts people’s abilities to want to dance. There is a qualified chef in the back doing some shit, cooking away, and throughout the night I am distracted by smells of chips and meat and good cooking… It’s like a fucken Supper Club. 

We hang at the edge of the bar, and think about the line-up: Colombus, Dead Alphabet and The Shadowclub. Jacques Moolman, lead singer of Shadowclub, comes up to McGee and starts chatting. 
I notice his hairdo. It’s funny, shaved back and sides, long on top, pushed back. Real rock ‘n roll. Real 50s, edgy. I pipe up: “Are you guys going to be playing some Tiger Army covers? You know, psychobilly?”
Jacque gets faux-sensitive.
“I’m sorry…Who are you?”
Colombus starts. They’re flailing for the rock ‘n roll. “Columbus, as in exploring uncharted territory” I whisper-shout. McGee chuckles. I must say, right off the bat, I’m not a very big fan of the blues. Specifically bluesy-rock ‘n roll sorta revival kinda stuff. It always seems put-on, when it’s amateurish, like they’re trying to get that gritty, moany vocal style down pat. A voice that can only truly come from at least a couple years of substance abuse and more than a two-packs-a-day nicotine habit. They do try hard, though, but the rock ‘n roll posing escapes them somewhat. Sometimes it’s real good: modern examples being Jack White and Julian Casablancas. Maybe Colombus’ hearts aren’t in it. Maybe that’s the problem. I ask around and discover they’ve only been playing for about 6 months. Benefit of the doubt, young band, potential, etc. 

We head for another quart. I wanna get drunk and get rock ‘n roll. McGee really wants to go to Hooters.
“Seriously, if the next band is kak we’re going to Hooters.”

The Shadowclub, Dead Alphabet, Columbus

Ok McGee, whatever you want. 

Dead Alphabet used to be in a band called The Kick. Adam Edwards’ vocals are great, but he, still, seems to be pushing. It’s like they’re groping for something that’s almost there, but not quite there, some kinda rock ‘n roll swagger. It seems, at times, like they might have their fingers on it but, at the last moment, it escapes them.
Adam admits as much to me after their show, and I am paraphrasing slightly: “I kinda had to push a bit harder tonight, sometimes you have to if it’s not there.” He glances around at Tanz. I nod knowingly. This is the first time I’m seeing them. Benefit of the doubt, hold thumbs, all that. 

More quarts.

The Shadowclub, Dead Alphabet, Columbus

The Shadowclub is up next, and I crunch my knuckles, excited. They’re a good band, I tell myself. Jacques has a myriad of rock ‘n roll “problems” and they always seem to put on a good show. Excepting for that one time Jacques forgot the lyrics and riffs so bad the band actually gave up. He continued, though, playing and singing some shit and then, inexplicably, breakdancing in front of the stage. I guess he was being a bit too rock ‘n roll. 

Me, at this point, I’m aching for some rock ‘n roll. Jacques tells someone before he goes up: “Our bassist is away, overseas.” He looks like he’s freaking out. Awesome. They get on stage. They start playing. 
And, well, It’s just, they look so comfortable. Jacques ambles around stage, swaggering, flipping his hair back every now and then, handling feedback with ease, standing on the edge of the bass drum while swirling some solid garage riffs all over the place. The drummer Isaac Klawansky rolls around the kit, keeping a solid tempo. Even with the lack of a bassist, they still keep it together. Jacques’ vocals are enormously, spasmodically good. He hits the highs and the lows with comfort and ease. It’s amazing to watch. Surprisingly, the beast is in the house. Somehow, without looking like they’re trying, The Shadowclub have brought rock ‘n roll to a place where it really really shouldn’t be, Tanz Café. We can sit and argue all we like about what is and isn’t rock ‘n roll. Some people just have it. It’s hard. It’s easy. It can’t be taught, really.

The Shadowclub, Dead Alphabet, Columbus

The Shadowclub, Dead Alphabet, Columbus

The Shadowclub, Dead Alphabet, Columbus

*All images © Justin McGee.

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