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Gig ReviewsReviews

[Review] Henry Rollins @ Hamer Hall, Melbourne 24/06/2023

Review By Noah Redfern

Author, traveller, storyteller and punk legend Henry Rollins is a storyteller at heart. Quite possibly the world’s most well-travelled rock star, and literally a man who will never stop moving, Rollins is a sight for sore eyes in a world of stagnant, aging stars and egos that collapse under their own weight.

The Washington DC native brought his Good For You speaking tour to Melbourne on Saturday night at the glorious Hamer Hall. For almost two and a half hours, we were treated to a non-stop thrill ride of off kilter talers, semi deranged non sequiturs and trials of the mind and soul.

“I’m going to try to fit an extra twenty seconds into every minute tonight” Henry told us almost immediately after hitting the stage, “otherwise you’d be stuck here for four or five hours”.

For those who aren’t familiar, Henry Rollins rose to prominence in the 1980s as the fourth and most prominent singer of the hardcore punk rock band Black Flag. Leaving the band in 1986, Rollins jumped at every creative opportunity given – going on to be something of a renaissance man. Becoming an author, spoken word artist, actor and activist, Rollins has lived more in one lifetime than most men could in a dozen.

Fans of Rollins’ signature brand of word salad were overjoyed – the ten-laughs-a-minute brutality of wordplay demanded constant attention. Never taking a breath, never taking a sip of water, the show just kept going at am almost exhaustive rate, yet I could never lose interest or become bored. Henry would sometimes pause a story to promise us it would make it to a catharsis just when it seemed completely off the rails. There was no doubt that Henry’s style is nothing if not charming.

Never begging for applause, Henry would earn it every time. Weaving various stories together and delivering a wider message of optimistic nihilism, we learned of Henry’s life. His youth in Washington DC, abusive parents and finding solace in friendship and punk rock. But these stories weren’t all lessons and heavy topics – every tangent was packed with humourous observations.

One memorable moment told us of his paranoia of a home invasion – and his eventual respect for his potential stalker, while another told us of his detached relationship with death, and of the ashes of his alcoholic mother he forgot he left in his car before departing his home in Nashville last November for this extended tour. Finding the humour in the darkness, searching for the light in the horror, Henry rose through that sickness and strangeness of today seeking positivity, hilarity and joy.

A true one-in-a-billion character, and a great example for men of today. A first glance, one might assume Henry to be a world of machoism and toxic masculinity. With his muscular figure, tattoos and almost military attitude, you’d be right to think so of the sixty-two year old.

Upon listening to the man speak and share, you’ll learn that Henry is the shining example of what men, in particular aging men should be. Reminding the older generations that it is okay to step aside and let the youth take the reins. Reminding us all that empathy, love and positivity can prevail when we let it.

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InterviewsTour Interview

Interview with Henry Rollins

(NR) It’s been close to seven years since your last time here, with a few years of COVID in between to keep your feet planted. Did you miss being on the road the last few years? Is life on tour something you look forward to?

(HR) I’d rather be on tour than home. On tour or at least traveling. I didn’t start out that way but after many years of living for months at a time all over the place, I figured it was the best thing for me. So, yes, I’ve missed touring a lot and also, I wondered if live shows were going to still be a possibility ever again. When I was finally able to go back out again, it was amazing. At this moment, I’m in Warsaw, Poland. 

In Melbourne the post-pandemic setting has injected a breath of fresh air and positivity into the local music scene. Have you seen this effecting musicians and audiences around you in the US?

Yes. You see it in interviews and at shows. Both bands and audiences are into being back. I think of a lot of people, going to shows is a normal thing and being able to go to a show again is somewhat closer to how things were before COVID. 

You’ve got an eclectic taste to say the least. In a time where genre is almost becoming a thing of the past, what’ve been your favourite records of the past year?

Tamar Aphek’s album All Bets Are Off I thought was really smart, the new Automatic album Excess is great. There’s a band from Atlanta, Georgia called Upchuck on the Famous Class label who are really good. 

I know you love Hard-Ons and Nick Cave, who else are some Aussie icons of yesteryear and today who you love to listen to?

I play a lot of Australian bands on my radio show. 1-800-MIKEY, Chimers, Alien Nosejob, Delivery, The Prize, Imperial Leather, Romero, Power Supply, Shifters, Blonde Revolver, Gee Tee. This is just off the top of my head. Apologies to all the ones I’m not listing. There seems to be no shortage of great bands out of Australia. 

You’re a big crate digger, what makes a record store a good one for you? Is it about selection, personality, genre? And what is your favourite Melbourne record store? I’m always hearing rumours of you popping into Poison City…

For me, a good record store is one that takes advantage of space by curating well. Strangeworld Records in Melbourne is a must go to store. I usually arrange a day off on tour to spend hours there and warn Richie what day I’ll be there. He sets aside records he thinks I might like and I check them out. He knows his stuff and his store is packed with great records. This is the mark of a good store. The people who run it actually listen to the music and are able to recommend good music to the customers come to trust the “cool person at the record store.” These kind of relationships can go for years. 

You spoke a while back about the effect a good record can have on someone going through trouble, for example giving a young queer kid a DEVO record. What music helped you most in the harder years of youth?

When I was teenage, we had arena rock, the big bands you’d hear on the radio. We’d go see them. It was pretty good but a bit anonymous. It’s you and thousands of people. Then, we were able to go to clubs and smaller venues and everything changed. Seeing Led Zeppelin was great but standing right in front of the Clash or the Ramones, like getting sweated on by them, seeing the Cramps from up front, these were for me, life altering events. It was Punk Rock, which I got into as soon as I was able that was the big change in my life. DEVO’s album Duty Now For The Future, I don’t know how many times I’ve played that. 

What’re your thoughts on social media today, and how bands often have no choice but to dive into it as a platform to their art? Do you think the cycle of content creation is harming the creativity of today’s musicians?

I could not say how a music platform affects a band’s work. The Indie bands I listen to, they seem to make their music with no problem, there’s vinyl and downloads and it sounds good to me. They tour and I go to see them play. It doesn’t seem any different in that respect than it’s ever been. There might be a lot I’m not seeing because I’m old and I don’t make records any more. I can’t see anyone’s creativity being pushed on. 

You’ve brought up your experience being over medicated as a child. How do you think it effected your development? Do you think labels and medication are helpful for a neuro- divergent child, or did you find it more of a hinderance?

I was given a lot of Ritalin. When I was young, they were fairly throwing it down my neck. I cannot speak to what it might have done to me with any authority as I’m not a doctor but it did keep me from eating and I think that had an effect on my growth. Again, I’m simply not qualified to speak on medications and those being medicated. I have a feeling I was one thing but being medicated for something else. At this point, if I were somehow prescribed a medication for my brain, I’d never go near it. 

In 2019, you spoke about the “strong silent type” and the harm it can have on men, what do you think defines masculinity for you, or what should men strive for in today’s age?

I think both men and women, at least in the “Western World” are marketed to up to the gills. In those endless pitches, an identity via consumerism can be established. Men are supposed to do this, wear this, smell like this, like this, not like that, etc. Someone’s making money and someone else is getting played. What if men were to completely throw out the idea of masculinity, or at least treat it as merely an exercise in branding, and just be themselves. Their orientation and hormonal balance will probably steer them where they need to go, they don’t need to look at an advertisement or listen to some stupid thing their father told them (I’m projecting here) and they can just be who they are. What to strive for? Maybe a life without the role playing. 

What kind of stories and tales can your fans expect upon your return to Aus in June and July?

I’ve always got a lot to say. I’ll be about 170 shows into the tour at that point, so I should be pretty well oiled.

See what Henry Rollins has to say on his upcoming tour

Tickets are on sale now!

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