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One for the Lovers

by Dela Gwala / Images by Stefan Jordan-Rozwadowski / 05.07.2011

The highway tails off at what seems to be an abandoned lodge in Pretoria East – the Mamelodi side. The wheels turn into the dust-covered city hideaway – a roadside rest stop en route to somewhere better. There’s no burly door monitor, only half a cash register manned by a dark-haired blur whose only words are “R 40”. The black ink on my wrist speaks of my whereabouts – capitalized block letters announced in a generic speech bubble. There’s a Where’s Wally striped backdrop crowned by KWV silver. It’s flanked by mini crowd control bars, a pool table coloured carpet and a charcoal furnace. This is the performance space at Arcade Empire.

The speakers spawn a mash up of fresh-faced Beatles, Queen in their cross-dressing days and the movie soundtrack daydreams of Temper Trap. The barmen here are fire wranglers – they fill their mouths with clear liquid and breathe out puffs of heat on the balcony above the stage. Like drunken school kids, their flames are ill-timed distractions during the main acts. They keep their mouths closed for the first performance. The line-up sways between rasta jigging and indie meanderings. The first dreadlocked folk to enter the fray are Souljah – the opening act.

It took them nearly their entire set to declare who they are – a scarcity of persona seemed to be their running theme. The messy haze of reggae rock marched by with only a flash of spectacle courtesy of The Doors. “This one goes out to the one I love”, whispered Mr Sensitive Soul – the lead vocalist. What followed was an emotion jingling plea with a ska feel. But the emotion up front was not a sentiment shared – it was a mismatch of six desolate performances. The lead guitarist couldn’t contain himself within his pinstriped blazer and the keyboardist looked like the calm influence of a Swedish metal band. Behind the bongos, the blonde Brady Bunch cutie didn’t do much for alternative percussion except get himself a free cigarette, lit by an audience member.

Nic Dinnie stands front and centre behind the mic, but he is not here to perform his bassist duties for Desmond and the Tutus… at least not yet. He is strapped to a guitar and he is fronting the band that’s up next – Float Parade. Cornered behind a keyboard is a man who could be the voice of God in material form – the stalwart of this funk and soul outfit. Cassette part timer, Hugo Radyn, is seated behind the drum kit. The set gets off to a rambling start and disappears into the nerves of high expectations.

“These are the type of songs you write in standard 5.” Dinnie’s self-deprecating apology for writing about love lost and hoping to find it again. But there’s no need to say sorry, he makes up for the ‘heard it all before’ lyrical content by genuinely being able to sing. He belts out a song called “Only in the Summertime” and a shuffle of nostalgia spreads for all those rose-tinted memories that you actually don’t even have. He ends the show by promising the dancing crowd a cover. The first few chords spout out a sound as dark and brooding as an alleyway in Woodstock. There’s a hanging delay of recognition but the chorus straightens out what the verses couldn’t – what we’re hearing is a Rihanna remake. This is a rare saving grace for the dregs of 5FM culture.

Tidal Waves

People began to clamber onto every raised surface during a plague of sound issues while Tidal Waves are setting up. In the wake of a gargantuan sound check stand a couple of rastas and a guy in a Pink Floyd t-shirt. The rhythm begins to amass without a word being said and the people begin to move before they are asked.The crowded house of Waves’ veterans then greet the two Charlies on stage before the formal introductions. The frontman, Zakes Wulana, maps out a string of no man’s towns to tell the story of how they ended up here – a moment of spotlight for the North West. He then casts his favour on the struggle for Afrikaans liberation – the reggae sokkie fest begins. The message is clear: “As jy nie wil dans nie “jy kan fokof!”

The 80s prom dresses now begin to assert their presence in the crowd – the indie/pop terrorists are coming. Desmond and the Tutus are already on the stage – minus a particular lead vocalist. Shane Durrant and his musky Farrah Fawcett flick are never anywhere to be seen during sound checks. His absence is always an open-ended question: Who is coming out of the lucky packet? A shitfaced Shane or a sober one? A rather downcast man in a grey t-shirt answers by politely declining the offer of a beer from a gloved stranger – we are getting sombre Shane tonight.

Doug, the doo-wop specialist, begins proceedings by abandoning actually playing his guitar and bringing down a mic stand during a frenetic interpretive dance. The moustached frontman takes over the assault by contorting in his delightfully unnatural manner – lamenting about how old girls just want to dance. He battles his way through a bundle of chords and takes up position in front of the barrier – the rest of my view of the show will be at crotch level. Shane raises his hand like a claw and the crowd follows the instruction – these are the rules of engagement while doing the German Modern. This is the song that launched a hundred locked elbows and twisting wrists.

“This one is for all the lovers out there”, the lead man brings out his harmonica and the show takes what’s supposed to be an emotional turn. Weak knees, awe-inspiring dance moves and making sure to use your toothbrush – the Tutus version of romance. Shane then tries his hand at thinking about the future – unveiling a new song which proclaims these as the best days of their lives. He raises a false alarm of a possible stage dive but his new found wisdom dictates that the indie kids won’t catch you. After the sweat settles, we get a rare word from the other Durrant brother. While packing up his xylophone, Craig lets us know that the new album will be out by the end of the year. But for now the Tutus are taking their jive friendly hilarity and all their side projects to New York City.

Tidal Waves

Desmond and the Tutus

Desmond and the Tutus

*All images © Stefan Jordan-Rozwadowski.

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