Maboneng was San Franby Kallak Jonesic / Images by Pieter Jordaan / 07.09.2012
When I was living in San Francisco in a commune in the Mission District, working two night shifts a week at the Fitzgerald Hotel and making less than eight hundred bucks a month, (drinking five hundred of it, eating the rest, and giving them whatever was left for the rent), a musician friend called one Tuesday and said that we should hit a gig at The Independent on Divisadero Street. At that time it was difficult to keep your belly topped up and your head buzzing the way it should in a town like that, but I decided to blow a twenty for a ticket and met him at a bar across the street from the concert hall. We drank Anchor Steam beer for the Happy Hour of four hours. That’s how it works there – happy hour lasts from 4 PM to 8 PM if the owners know anything about business in the Recession. I blew another thirty on the beers and I was broke. But I knew I was getting paid the next day by the hotel owner who hated my guts and always told me my breath stank. “Jam some gum in that hole, Kallak, you stinks of Bourbon! You know well enough the Germans hate a stinky breath.” Well, the Germans stank like ten dead foxes in a cowshed and left their condoms full on the floors and puked on the pot plant next to where my reception desk was, where I wrote short stories all night, and in the mornings I had to sponge the retch off those big, fleshy leaves. But you couldn’t speak against the paying customers. After all, they kept the beer, the music, the rent, and the burritos coming; enough not to have you sink like one of those bums in the park. One time we found the right man with the right Moonshine and it was a good time to be alive. That pot plant died soon after the Germans began arriving in the spring. Spring was a bad time for a pot plant at the Fitzgerald.
So when happy hour was over and when we had a few of the normal priced drinks on my musician friend, a tiny Japanese girl entered The Independent’s stage somewhere from the left and destroyed the place. I hadn’t seen a band quite like that before: all of it ran MIDI, even the bass guitar and drums, and it seemed like they were doing something most bands wouldn’t even think of attempting. On top of that, that petite Japanese girl controlled the crowd like it was her own personal experiment. There she was, fluttering her hands in the air, the lanky bass player with his eyes shut and our retinas trembling along to his sub frequencies. That was then – April, 2010.
This time I was at The Maboneng Precinct in downtown Johannesburg to see the same band. MOAD was the venue; a tin can hangar that you knew had no chance in hell of producing the right acoustics. The corrugated iron ceiling was twenty meters above your head and they had erected a marquee half way through to somehow contain the sound. It took the better part of twenty minutes to get a beer and the second time around I ordered a quadruple scotch so I wouldn’t have to go back there. The barmen and barwomen looked pensively at you and you did the same. It was quite wonderful actually – two unassisted breathing entities looking at each other in wonder, wondering where they had come from and what came next. This made me miss the first act, Vampire 9000. Felix Laband played an interesting set right after. It was close to perfect. His minimalist, cinematic compositions and languorous beats were intended to relax you and take you to a dream world before the subs of Little Dragon kicked your ass.
Well, that wasn’t going to happen because sometime around the middle of his performance, everyone from the bars and surrounding passages of that tin can began foraging for a place up front, and it didn’t matter if they stood on your toes, rammed your bladder, or elbowed your neck – if they had blades and axes, they would have used them for sure. I stood in the middle, left of the sound desk where the marquee began and all you could see was the slit of an embrasure: white marquee above like a trance version of Boswell Wilkie, 20 centimeters of stage lights, and then the heads, a thousand heads. A friend of mine, Maverick von Trein, was there with me and when two short and stubby lesbians began biting at each other’s tongues behind us, he said that the black girl’s ass was right under where his ended and that he was quite comfortable using hers as a resting chair. The white girl was even shorter and you knew they weren’t going to see shit. But at least there was love and lust around us – either of the two always does it for me; both is even better. The crowd was wonderful. For the first time in my life I saw a real representation of South Africa’s urban dwellers cooped together in one place. There were blacks, whites, mixed races, Indian kids, Lebs, Jews, Mozambicans, Russians, the old and the new, all of them there to see something relevant. It was almost like San Francisco again, less for that tin can. I believe that the hipsters may finally be on the wane, and it’s about time, don’t you think? Perhaps this is not their scene, and I thank Dionysus for that. Just a week before they took me to The Joy of Jazz in Newtown where I got Nightmare Politics from a fat man with pure odium dripping from his jowls.
“Hey you! We didn’t pay four hundred and fifty rand to see you, you understand? Move or I’ll have someone move you, you bastard!”
“But everybody’s up, no just us?“
“You shut up, you bastard!”
It was quite evident there weren’t any hipsters at the jazz fest either, and I thank God for that. I’d rather take the biggest and meanest black racist over someone who you can’t even consider for critical analyses. Besides, there is no fun in killing each other over a hat or scarf.
But this time there was love and lust in the air and not just the lesbian kind, and I could understand why they were so enthused to get up front and witness something more than a few overhead microphones through an embrasure; moreover, they were there to witness something more than the usual dispositions of inept bands fifteen, twenty, or thirty years too late. von Trein got the comfy ass and I got Usain Bolt dancing and jumping right in my grill. His scalp smelled of hair gel and his neck of expensive perfume, and a skintight, white t-shirt is all I saw for some time. I moved a few meters to the left and the show began with what sounded like pots and pans being clattered together and they hit us with an abridged version of ‘Looking Glass’ which got everyone exited. There they were again, those sub frequencies from bassist Fredrik Källgren Wallin, whilst Yukimi Nagano, the same petite girl that destroyed The Independent in 2010, was right on the fine-tuning from the get go. Then they played the title track of 2011 album Ritual Union and the crowd knew that well too. She had you in her palms just the same, and for a moment you forgot about the heaving mob. All you saw was her head and large sunglasses, and a waving hat. Below that, a thousand heads and two thousand hands up in the air. They played ‘Test’ from their self-titled 2007 album, and then returned to Ritual Union with ‘Please Turn’, and so I turned and they were all smiling behind me. After the fourth song or so I felt like the band got a little tired and sloppy and was dropping the energy it had begun with; but the people were still there with them. Again, you couldn’t see much unless you were standing right in front, but the sound did enough for those in the middle and back. At times, though, it got too loud and it was difficult to feel the dynamics of the group, which this time had Arild Werling – if my whiskey head saw correctly – replacing Håkan Wirenstrand on the leftmost synth console. The best part of the show was arguably drummer Erik Boding who kept it going like a steam train driver in a hurry to get home, eat, fart, and bang the missus. There was a rhythmic lull in the middle of the set and there crowd had its reservations – they wanted it hard disco all the way. Nagano played along with the help of some drum pads but her timing was out at times. The only song that I thought didn’t go down all too well was ‘Roundabout’ from Machine Dreams – they played it too fast and lost that Egyptian neck groove, the one that makes your head and neck move back and forth like a turtle’s head going in and out of its shell. I know of the other turtle head, but you were thinking of that way before I could finish writing this sentence. In the encore the band played its more aloof songs and finished off with ‘Twice’, which I think is one of the most moving songs of the last decade.
Which of the two concerts did I Iike better? I don’t know because this time around I was home; although with enough whiskey in your head, it’s always home, right?
*All images © Pieter Jordaan.