Pyramid Schemesby Dela Gwala / 23.11.2012
I put my drink in the shade of the purple haze coming from a see-through pyramid. The gauze-y triangle on the table is one of many. There are two large ones obstructing the screens next to an installation of dangling faerie lights and old records. Apart from that, and posters announcing the Plastics’ album launch, it’s the same old Assembly. A party of boys are wearing dumpy, crayola caps that could have been snatched off the heads of children on a playground in the 80s. The t-shirts are longer – a welcome dip in the number of v-necks clinging to biceps and man-breasts. One of the resident Assembly radio DJs steps up and assumes his futile role of announcer and crowd-rouser. I’m standing next to the empty, lit-up studio he usually occupies. I wonder if he’s better behind that microphone.
The twins from Touchwood step on stage even though that name is missing from the line-up. Tonight they’re 2/5ths of something called Al Bairre. They’re followed by a kid in a geometric print tee and gaudy peak cap – the fresh-faced, dusty blonde who happens to be the frontman. By the second song, he’s thrown off the cap and has found his way into the crowd to rub whatever’s on the heads of others. The front rows are an inner circle and family-ties affair: they get personalised shout-outs and knowing smiles. The frontman, Nic Preen, is full of quick quips steeped in self-depracation and feigned conservatism about the word “Fuck”. Still, the ‘heard-it-all before’ feeling sinks in until each song lumbers along to its bridge. It’s the dark-haired lookalikes that redeem the band from the predictable indie drabness. The ridiculous number of instruments they’re able to play coupled with Preen’s artless eagerness lifts Al Bairre out of a brimming hole of hipster cheerlessness.
On walks the girl who shocked my History and Film class by declaring that the young Hitler had a face that could have warranted a bit of panty throwing. In this context, she’s Danny Video of Beach Party. She’s followed by men in updated and mod versions of floral shirts. Then comes the comatose button-twiddler with the same lack of hair as a thinning Christian Bale in The Machinist. The happiest thing about Andy Islands is the Lion King sticker attached to the front of his keyboard/organ – Rafiki with outstretched arms and a young Simba. At some point the frontman lets the crowd know that the man on the keys is going through a quarter century crisis.
Big Daddy D, the frontman, also asks the crowd if we know how “to mosh pit”. I assume he’s asking if we know how ‘to mosh’. Confusing the noun with the verb doesn’t stop him from climbing over the barricade and pushing people around. His plucky initiative isn’t met with the enthusiasm it deserves – one of the pre-requisites of ‘indie-ness’ must be awkward and feeble attempts at bodily contact. Beach Party’s music seems to be a gentleman’s wager between the 60s sensibility of the Beach boys and the rebellion of the prickly-haired characters of the 70s. Articulated by a bunch of moderately mad Capetonians, it’s hard not to play along. They’re hard-edged loud in a dance-y sort of way. They’re the best part of the night.
When the Plastics finally make it onto the stage, it’s hard to notice them amongst the barrage of cameramen. One particular idiot in a pink t-shirt stands on stage like a lost spectator while filming -apparently the performance is being broadcast on the internet. “Who likes to get high?” this guaranteed crowd pleaser is punctuated by a tepid applause and the subsequent departure of some in the front row. This rhetorical question segues into ‘Underwater Kite’ one of the latest ditties off the new album they’re punting. It’s nice enough: ‘perfectly adequate’. My ears are still kind of interested but my eyes are bored. The retro imagery of their heyday has been replaced by abstract patches of colour. The discarded flashing images of David Hasselhof’s self-satisfied mug are sorely missed.
The album has been dubbed Pyramid, which explains the inordinate amount of triangular shaped stuff plastered on every surface. “This one is for that girlfriend or boyfriend you fuckin’ hate,” the ‘ex’ is nowhere to be found in that statement but what follows is enough to generate some moderate foot shuffling on my end. Pascal Righini seems to keep to himself on stage but he’s a frontman in the classic sense– he can actually sing. Probably the best set of vocal pipes of the night. At some point, the stand-in guitarist, Giles, and the bassist gingerly swop instruments then continue playing. It’s a bit of a mindfuck that overshadows their silly closely matching caps. The Plastics saunter off stage at the end of their set but at Mr Announcer’s insistence the crowd calls for one more. They return and do two songs including a cover that gets Sideshow dancing in the wings. It’s a fair performance by the Cape indie scene stalwarts but they are outdone by the young loons that preceded them.
*All images © Stewart Innes / The Assembly