Review by Matt Bolton
Art Alexakis of Everclear and Taj Ralph in Sydney, 13th October 2016 @ Bald Faced Stag Hotel, NSW
Usually, I would go to the Bald Faced Stag to watch heavy shows like Aussie acts King Parrot, Psycroptic and The Levitation Hex. The Bald Faced Stag was where I witnessed punk legends The Dwarves and met their iconic frontman, Blag Dahlia. Maybe I’m getting old at 32, but man did I enjoy Art Alexakis‘ acoustic set at this sweet little venue.
Starting things off was a young lad, Taj Ralph. A street performer at the ripe age of 15, he was more than overwhelmed to be playing and thanked Art for having him a number of times. Taj is usually seen playing the streets of the North Shore in Sydney and has played a sold-out show at Marrickville. He recently played under the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a means to raise money for homeless kids, so you can see why Art would have such a young talent open for him. They’re both musicians with their hearts in the right place.
For the next half hour, Taj strums through his material. The young performer has a great set of pipes on him. He adds a cover of The Internets‘ Under Control. Taj tells us that he first watched the band play at Splendour In The Grass but missed seeing them at The Metro, due to it being an over 18’s event. He makes the crowd chuckle as he introduces a new song that he doesn’t yet have a name for. He reminds me of a young Daniel Johns of Silverchair with the innocent Church Boy look, and after his short set, a number of females in the audience rushed to grab his CD. Kudos to the young Aussie.
I grew up listening to Everclear and having never seen them live I couldn’t miss this intimate performance with Art, the backbone of the seminal band. Art casually walks in as if he is part of the crowd wearing a flannelet jacket. He picks up his acoustic guitar and greets the crowd, joking about the billboard outside with ‘Everclear’ written in a large bold font and ‘with Art Alexakis’ in tiny letters under it. An idea of boosting ticket sales perhaps. The man has the crowd in stitches at times and could have been a comedian.
Art starts with Songs from an American Movie, a song written about his daughter. He tells us the name of the gig is ‘Songs and Stories’, and that’s why he’s talking so much. He jokes about the older audience saying, “This is great!” while the young ones are like “Hurry up play some more songs!”
He asks the crowd if we’ve ever had bad dreams that kept us up, only to sleep again with that same bad dream continuing. The crowd murmur their answers and Art states: “America is a bad dream right now”. He plays Strawberry, a song that was difficult for him to record. Art recalls that he wouldn’t let anyone come into the studio until he’d finished writing the song – it had kept him up with constant bad dreams.
Art tells the crowd that he has been married for 30 years to four different wives and it looks like he has finally found the right one. Another song off the platinum record, Sparkle and Fade is played next: Heartspark Dollar Sign. A song about being with someone despite what others think. He plays through I Will Buy You A New Life, a song written for people who live and would die for the people closest to them.
Art plays us a new song; he introduces it as being about the stupidest man that he knows — himself. The Man That Broke His Own Heart is a clever little number that goes down well acoustically. Art was raised by a loving mother who taught him to be a ‘real’ man in the absence of his father, and the next song, Father of Mine echoes this. His father died at the age of 94, but the death of David Bowie three days later upset Art more than his father’s passing, as Bowie brought more to Art than his father ever did.
Art plays the crowd a treat with Loser Makes Good off Everclear’s debut World of Noise. Everything to Everyone was next from So Much For The Afterglow, and the crowd are encouraged to make the infamous accordion sound. Art tells the crowd he could have used just one synthesiser for the track but decided to be cool and use seven accordions instead. The song was written about that person who knows everything about everything — a Mr. or Mrs. Know It All. In this case, a manager at Capital Records.
There is no encore for fan favourites; instead, Art introduces us to ‘Surly Jukebox’, a chance for the crowd to request songs. Sunflower is picked first. Art explains that even though the flower doesn’t smell good, it’s his favourite. His daughter knew this and got into Art’s oil paints and painted large sunflowers in her room. His wife at the time, “Wife #2” Art chuckles, wasn’t too impressed — but Art was.
Wonderful is played with a funny story behind it as the manager at the time saw the song title and said “Great! Finally a happy song.” Art asked, “Do you know me?”, As most fans would know Everclear’s songs to seem happy at first but are usually dark as fuck.
A male audience member was called on stage to dance awkwardly to his request of Heroin Girl; I had dodged the same bullet having requested the same song. Art closes the set with Santa Monica, the song he states he has to be good to, as it brought him four houses and a number of divorces.
At the age of 54, and having battled and conquered addiction, we’re lucky to have such an inspirational performer who is still doing his thing. Art thanks the Sydney crowd for coming out on a colder than usual spring night.
I had a chance to meet my childhood hero after the show, and Art informed me that he would be back at the same time next year to perform So Much For The Afterglow in its entirety.