The final night of the festival tends to be a more mellow experience as the largest flood of bands has come and gone. However this year they’ve saved some of the best for last with two heavily punk inspired bands in The Ex and Tropical Fuck Storm, though they’ve moved far beyond the confines of this genre. Both bands have ironically attained a lot of clout precisely through their rejection of status and trying to be cool. Unafraid to tackle larger issues at hand, but still deeply rooted in local culture, they serve as a kind of quintessential act at Le Guess Who? festival.
Simply labeling The Ex as sheer punk would be excessively reductive, but tonight, a little over forty something years since their inception, it quickly becomes clear they haven’t fully shaken their roots. Sure the group has expanded and multiplied it’s sound over the years to contain virtually anything, ranging from Ethiopian folk rhythms and avantgarde jazz, but the dogged excitement with which they wield their instruments remains undiminished. Watching Terrie tearing down on his guitar equally shredding and pounding the strings, wielding a drumstick in his mouth, seems like some sort of debased atavistic ritual. One of the main attractions of the band remains their remarkable skill to keep surprising, always putting their audience slightly off balance as guitars drift apart on their own melodies and measures, only to be swiped back up in a delightfully catchy bass line that will have you merrily nodding or hopping along. Lyrically they’re still as prescient as ever, much of the material of their latest record 27 Passports containing hypnotically repetitive poetry seeming to preordain some future in decline, disheveled by unchecked globalization and privatization. In this sense their political views probably haven’t changed all too much over the years, but they have become immensely adept in articulating them with real poignancy and urgency. The song Soon All Cities embodies this impending state of catastrophe best, channeling both nervous joy and ominous dread in an inspired ending to their lively performance.
On the topic of wry and witty lyrics there’s probably no band on the planet able to match the infamous Tropical Fuck Storm, whose name alone should tell you more than enough about their sensibilities. Their unhinged tirades filled with abstractions about Chinese colonization of the moon and computer simulations are much of a continuation of Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschins’ previous work with The Drones. Musically though they’ve definitely diverted from their punk blues roots with erratic saxophone samples and noisy rattling guitar loops. Their fervor and fanatic energy on stage still remains a sight to behold as they play with little regard for perfection, instead opting to just have at it and create as much of a ruckus as they can. This approach quickly proves infectious, though not enough so to Liddiards’ liking as he mockingly imitates an audience member posing with arms across his chest, finishing with a mischievous stick of the tongue. Yes, the band’s probably better suited playing deep in the night in some shady bar than on a Sunday at a well established festival, but it doesn’t make their performance any less riveting. New single Who’s My Eugene gets played at a breakneck speed distorting much of the sweet mystery of the song into sheer danger and the wonderfully emotive You Let My Tyres Down is still everything a blues ballad could and should be. The joyous punk pandemonium of these crazy four Aussies proves to be one of the most exciting performances of the entire festival, even on a Sunday night.