Live Italian Restaurant Musicby Karl Kemp / Images by Daniel Donaldson / 25.06.2012
Live was the first place I saw Francios van Coke puke on a smiling fan. In those days Mercury might as well have hung a warning sign on the door. It was the place you simply had to play if you were a South African band touring the Cape; it was the place that boys and girls became maliciously hedonistic men and women. So the Italian pizza and pesto night I walked in on was surprising, to say the least. Holy shit; Mercury had turned into a cheap restaurant.
Glen Hatmann was on stage as I sat down, him and his band playing a harmonious mixture of Mumford and Sons and Kings of Leon with a bit of a spunky banjo twang thrown into the mix. I’m ashamed to admit that I harked back to days gone by and longed for the shitty dubstep I had bopped to all those years ago. Hatmann’s vocal talent is indisputable but his shy personality suited the surroundings a little too well to be completely palatable for a cynical dick like me. This is Mercury after all; not a café or a Sunday lunch venue. The entire experience was worryingly reminiscent of date night with the missus and I felt a tad uneasy. This was before a clearly embarrassed barman-turned-waiter quietly asked me I’d like anything. I feared he might run through the specials. I tentatively replied in the affirmative and watched in amazement as he crept back to the bar to fetch his valued customer a drink. After that I was simply disoriented and nauseous.
Even the bands were amazed. During an interlude to change a string, Andrew James’ drummer commented that everything looks “very civilized”. The name of this series of acoustic shows is, after all, Waxing Lyrical, with emphasis on the ‘lyrical’. This indicates that the words in the songs are supposed to be audible. Andrew James and his drummer friend are a bit self-indulgent though and manage to create a mystical atmosphere rather devoid of lyrics, interspersed with occasional moments of brilliance during the five minute long songs. They come across a bit pretentious; when Andrew quips that the next song is like a “stream of consciousness” and his drummer adds that it “is a bit like heroin”. Very hardcore. They sound like Damien Rice without Rice’s versatility, but Andrew does impress with a fit of lap-guitar slide skill. The purpose of his lyrics being waxed is defeated by the buzz of conversation from the the divided restaurant crowd. Their last song does their real talent justice; a bluesy number with a swinging beat that finally shuts up the punters, who have clearly been relishing the pizza and the opportunity to actually hear each other upstairs at the Merc.
Shadowclub finally come on at around 23h00. They do perform with a good deal of guts and professionalism however and Jacques Moolman keeps the crowd entranced throughout with acoustic renditions of songs like“Guns&Money”, “Good Morning Killer” and “Lucy”. The tragic part is the polite applause that replaces the fury of a crowd screaming and clapping. Shadowclub drummer Isaac Klawansky simply refuses to play with brushed drumsticks and jams as hard as ever. A one man protest; lonely consolation in the bleak atmosphere of an upstairs Mercury filled with tables and waiters. Moolman then announces the last song as “Cabin in the Wood”, noting that it’s about the drug rohypnol, which I’m starting to long for.
In retrospect it wasn’t really that bad. I was waited on; I wasn’t puked on; I could make conversation. The food, not as bad as expected. So what was the problem? This new Mercury supper club could be awesome. Then I remember the tacky candles and pizza ads on the chequered tablecloth, and the longing for loud music and dilated pupils. The situation was about as bipolar as Kurt Cobain circa 1994. On the one hand the night was pleasant and civilized; on the other, when I want to be pleasant and civilized I can go to a restaurant. Perhaps this is slightly melodramatic. But it seems that Waxing Lyrical is just an attempt to bring in the punters for something different. There’s a recession on and maybe Mercury are feeling the pinch with the Assembly just down the road. One might argue that the change in pace is refreshing; one might also say the same thing about Metallica’s Load album. Change is good in many instances and there is no denying the talent of Glen Hatmann, Andrew James and Shadowclub, but perhaps the concept of a “stripped down” acoustic dinner show is a bit out of place at the hole that is Mercury Live.