Songs From the Big Chair
By Stuart Coupe (Drum Media)
Silverchair have sold around two million albums around the world - and, hey, you know the rest. From Newcastle to superstardom in a very, very short period of time.
Arriving at the Trocadero [in Philadelphia, PA, U.S.A.] for, believe it or not, my first ever silverchair club date, it's obvious from the din outside that they're well into the set. I'm frisked by security and wander in to join around 1,800 other punters, the show having sold out in less than two days after about a dozen American dates were hastily organised following the postponement of the 'chair's spot on the Red Hot Chili Peppers' tour.
Yeah, silverchair are in full flight. Heads bobbing everywhere. Daniel Johns leaping around the stage. What's amazing to me is how young much of the audience is. It's not till later that I realise it's an all-ages gig, even though it's around 9:30 at night. Bunches of what look like 10- and 11-year-old kids are pushing into the crowd while, as I turn around, I see mums and dads with earplugs in standing at the back of the room and keeping a watchful eye on their charges.
Wandering into the foyer to get a drink I'm informed that there's no alcohol downstairs but it is available upstairs. The crush to get up the stairs is too great so I go and get a soft drink. The girl behind the counter, which is also well stocked with silverchair merchandise, recognises my accent and wonders if I'm one of their dads. I'm momentarily depressed before doing the maths in my head and working out that age wise, yes, it's possible. You see, in the past the band's mums have traveled with them but this time it's the dads' turn.
The show appears pretty good -- the expected songs from frogstomp, a crowd going reasonably nutty, etc. -- but I'm completely exhausted and not too displeased when after five or six songs the show ends. An interesting moment comes towards the end when they play the mandatory Big Single and I'm almost trampled as a hundred or so kids [rush] into the main room, almost trampling anyone who gets in their way -- which includes yours truly.
After the crowd has filled out I meander backstage, manager John Watson having kindly left an all-areas access pass for me at the door. By this stage I am ready to kill for a beer but Watson laughs and tells me this is a silverchair gig -- would I like a Coke or a bottle of water? He's busy working on a guy from the record company. Seems there's been some debate about the next single in the States. The band want one thing, the record company the other. Over the course of the current tour Watson has been subtly working on the record company reps in each market, trying to change their mind. Tonight, with the local dude starting to agree with him, he feels like he's won the battle.
Inside the inner sanctum the silverchair members say howdy. For a band who's suddenly escalated to the level they have the trio seem remarkably down-to-earth and relaxed. Really not a lot different from the three kids I'd met a year ago in Martin Place. They're snapping Polaroids for a magazine article and getting ready to get on [their] tour bus to head up to New York, a two-hour drive away, so they can rehearse for Saturday Night Live the next night.
An interview? Watson says he'll think about it but reckons he doesn't want to do any Australian press for the moment. He mutters something about wanting to keep the band out of the public eye in Australia for the moment and cites how Midnight Oil always did such a good job of disappearing and reappearing in [the press]. David Fricke, a journalist from American Rolling Stone, has just spent three days on the road with the band for a story that might turn out to be a cover of a January issue. At this point it was hard not to think of the situation with INXS about five years ago when they were just toooo big for the Australian media and local publications had to try and buy interviews from overseas mags.
Watson agrees that at this stage silverchair could be playing much bigger rooms in the States but there's two simple reasons why they're not -- the band actually makes more money in clubs the size of the Trocadero cause there's in-house productions as opposed to having to bring a PA and lights into a room that would hold maybe 5,000 -- and with the postponement of the Chili Peppers tour this run of dates had to be put together quickly. Watson figured it was better to be guaranteed of filling these types of venues instead of booking the band into bigger ones cause there was just too little time to promote the shows.
Outside in the cold there's about 200 fans hanging around the tour bus. I walk down the block to get a cab to my hotel and then suddenly hear a young girl's voice screaming. "Mum, Mum, get in the car, Mum, quick, we've got to get around the corner so we can follow the bus.....Muuuuuummmmm." Feeling like I was after the flight this was a somewhat surreal moment.
A couple of nights later I'm in New York and it's getting colder. The Saturday Night Live performance out of the way, silverchair are playing to 3,500 people at the rather classy 'n' cool Roseland Ballroom. I'm over jet lag and can watch (and enjoy) the whole show. I'll be the first to admit that I didn't really get the frogstomp album but tonight silverchair are simply "awesome."
Standing next to David Fricke, I ask how they compare to Nirvana, a band he'd seen countless times. He tells me that Kurt had a bit more angst and menace but aside from that silverchair are already putting on a show to rival that band.
As for his three days on the road with silverchair, Fricke smiles and says, "No matter how hard you try they very quickly bring you down to their next level." Later John Watson expresses concern that in fact the band came across as dorks when Fricke was with them.
Also at the show is Murmur record boss John O'Donnell, in town to talk with Epic Records about Ammonia, who the company are apparently very excited about.
But the show itself. All the usual album tracks and three new ones. Radio Birdman's New Race was on the set list but didn't materialise -- something to do with Johns having a cold and not being able to reach a few of the notes. But regardless, they turned in one of the most exciting rock 'n' roll shows I've seen in years.
Backstage again. The three Dads are there, the band joking about how they've known as the Wheelchairs. John Watson's mum is in town too. The three 'chairs muck around throwing food and spraying Budweiser cans. Hey, it's three kids on the road having the time of their lives. They probably don't believe what's going on -- but then again how could you at their, or probably any, age. I've observed bands with a tenth of their success in America turn into egotistical maniacs overnight -- and it's kinda refreshing to see that, at least at this stage, silverchair don't act any different from the way they did at Martin Place a year ago.
Outside, probably because of the freezing weather, there's fewer fans waiting. The guys hug and kiss girls, pose for photos, and hop on the tour bus. Next stop's Baltimore. Then Asbury Park in New Jersey. Then Dallas. Then Phoenix. Then Los Angeles. silverchair are on the road.