I must preface this review with an admission: I was conflicted about what I was to hear on the night of this gig. I’m all for artists celebrating milestones such as this; especially independent Australian artists. However, 15 years is a long time in the Information Age, and I was worried that some of the content of Butterfingers’ debut record ‘Breakfast at Fatboys’ hadn’t aged particularly gracefully during that time.
Smack dab in the middle of the #MeToo movement, with a female support act and mothers of their own; I was curious as to how the Brisbane’s four-piece would approach ripping through the record cover-to-cover, when two of its three singles – never mind the remaining ten cuts – include lyrics blatantly misogynistic and sexist in nature. As a lifelong fan of hip-hop, I understand that the very essence of the genre has been (but doesn’t necessarily have to be) rooted in tongue-in-cheek, braggadocious machismo. And sure, one could trot out the historical/contextual relativism defence of “It was a different time then…”, but by the same token it’s a different time now, so what exactly would that solve?
This isn’t a dig at Butterfingers in general or frontman ‘Evil’ Eddie Jacobson in person. I certainly don’t believe any of them to be card-carrying sexists…but it holds that you don’t have to actively pursue a sexist agenda to say and/or do sexist things; and I was concerned that – in this age of comparative enlightenment – the entirety of ‘Fatboys’ may pose some uncomfortable questions for a majority of those in attendance, were they conscious enough to acknowledge them.
Regardless, this was a meaningful show for me. Not so long ago, I’d been struck down by crippling depression and anxiety, and it took Butterfingers’ ‘Get Up Outta the Dirt’ on repeat, the entirety of the 45-minute drive to work every morning, to motivate me into believing that I could do the thing; for at least a good six straight months. These days, it’s Butterfingers’ ‘FIGJAM’ on repeat, the entirety of the (now-) 60-minute drive home from work every night, to remind me that I did the thing, and did it well.
Another gig review at Wollongong UniBar, another evening of torrential thunderstorms. My sample size may yet be small, but two-from-two does not bode well for future artists reviewed, if this does indeed turn out to be a personal curse. To those artists, I say: sorry in advance! And heed the contents of this review…
The stakes certainly seemed low for our performers, leading up to this gig. UniBar’s main stage and its accompanying standing room had been cordoned off, the demountable silver medal option had been erected within the bar area proper, and the aforementioned deluge would’ve turned away any and all spur-of-the-moment attendees. There was maybe 40 people in attendance, at a stretch. The environment itself practically oozed apathy.
Opener Jack Vie took to the stage and gave it as best as it was possible to give; as a young rapper whose total crowd composed about eight (already drunk) oldheads. He cut an imposing, brooding figure on stage; and did the best he could with what was available to him at the time.
By contrast, support act Fresh Violet was a bundle of energy, bounding up on stage with nothing but a Macbook and a mic’, and backing herself to draw a bigger crowd. Her energy was palpable, but her set was marred by predictable cat-calling. I wonder if those men who feel the need to yell, “Phwoar, fuckin’ noice!” in between songs think that this is a legitimate pick-up strategy? Vizzy strikes me as the kind of rapper who works hard on her wordplay and strives to impart an appreciation for that in a live context: her enunciation and cadence were sharp throughout the set; rhythm and breath control a little rushed or laboured at a handful of points, maybe; but when you’re dancing and jumping and tolerating wedding proposals as much as she was, that was inevitable. Girl can spit too, when she feels that way inclined. A handful of Star Wars references (always appreciated), an endearing guest-freestyle from crowd member Ethan, and a good humoured approach to the evening had the crowd well and truly warmed up by the time Butterfingers took to the stage. The tracks ‘Left Right’ and ‘Different’ from her debut record ’50 Shades of Violet’ were standouts.
When their time came, Butterfingers launched headlong into album-opener (heretofore set-closer) ‘Hook Up’ with the help of Fresh Violet standing in for Nick 1’s verse, with the energy of the pre-gig jitters distilled further into ‘Mandarines’. By the time the band hit the iconic ‘Everytime’ (one of the aforementioned singles), they had found their stride, at ease in their low-stakes surroundings and certainly looking happy enough in spite of the modest turnout, who by now had filled the bar area floorspace to a man.
Eddie broke out a battered black SG-style guitar for ‘Yo Mama’ and their more up-tempo, outright punkier numbers; and we were teased with the opening riff to Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ and the first verse of The Black Keys’ ‘Lonely Boy’ which segued seamlessly into ‘Piss On Ya’ – for which the band was again joined by Fresh Violet. By the time the dual-kazoo solo of ‘Speak Your Mind’ had arrived, everybody in the place was moving; and there was a definite buzz in the air: I guess the freedom of such low-stakes shows is that they provide artists with an oddly-cathartic opportunity to let themselves hang a little bit looser; and provide a more organic, immediate audience experience as a result.
The band joked about having “nowhere to pretend to go” for the encore; so just hung out on stage and bantered for a little while before inciting a riot and launching into ‘Get Up Outta the Dirt’ and ‘FIGJAM’ from their second record ‘The Deeper You Dig…’, both of which were greeted with raucous appreciation. Eddie jumped into the crowd for the final number, and offered the mic’ to “anyone who [thought they] knew the words”, and as it turned out, one punter knew a majority of them. With the hardest part of his job being done by someone else, Eddie contented himself with hanging out on the floor and hyping this random for a majority of the song; before being symbolically “shot” as per the end of ‘FIGJAM’. What a creative way to avoid a second encore!
Eddie was a charmer the whole night, with an impish glint in his eye and a smile never far from his lips. When asked how he was feeling, he responded with “Lacking magnesium…a bit crampy”; and I came away from the gig with the distinct impression that he’s one of those cheeky bastards who’s just impossible to dislike – even when he’s bragging about having fucked your mum.
I’ve heard whispers that this tour will herald a triumphant return to “the middle-ground” of the alternative Australian music scene, as Eddie put it; and that the band’s first new content in thirteen years is set to follow once this tour is wrapped. I don’t know if there’s any truth to said whispers, but I certainly hope so. If not, the most we can do in the meantime is cross our fingers and hope that ‘The Deeper You Dig…’ is honoured with its own anniversary tour in two years’ time. Regardless, Butterfingers remains Australia’s #1 band in the self-proclaimed genre of Urban Aussie Folklore, and that’s no mean feat.