The woman next to me keeps on screaming, “I love you”. We’re in the front of the crowd watching the Shadowclub set at Mercury Live on a Friday night. It’s the debut album launch (check our album review here) of Johannesburg’s Hellcats but headlining the show are their brothers in arms, Shadowclub, who have been on the scene for as long as its taken to release three albums.
I laugh every time she screams this. Shadowclub’s Jacques Moolman is admittedly one of our hottest frontmen on the scene. The intensity of his performance, as he throws his head back, neck bulging, roaring into the microphone…well. We could focus this entire review on the sex appeal of rock ‘n roll bands, and particularly these pivotal bands that ooze charisma through their sweat glands. But we have other things we need to discuss, like the album launch of the hard-hitting Hellcats.
Shadowclub may have been headlining, but the real focus was on Johannesburg rock ‘n roll duo who have just released The Hex and the Healer which has been agitating soundwaves all the way in Canada. PureGrainAudio staff have just voted the band February’s “190 Proof” Artist of the Month, the first time a South African band has been honoured as such. “[T]he Johannesburg, South Africa-based duo are as hard-hitting as many five-pieces claim to be, and with their modern yet distinctly ‘70s-rock-influenced sound a consistently full-throttle ride, Hellcats have no intentions of breaking you in gently.”
What better way to digest this article then by also streaming the band’s entire The Hex and the Healer album?
Yeah, gentle is not in their vocabulary. I’m seeing it up close, right in front of my camera lens, which is struggling to get a hook on guitarist Warwick Rautenbach as he throws himself about the stage. He has all the tricks up his sleeve: the crowd interaction, the jumping and grinding and riding. But you can tell it’s genuine. You know his mother had her hands fill with Warwick the child, who was probably setting things alight at the age of two. He’s a firecracker and the stage sets his fuse alight.
The Cape Town crowd gets into the mood as they watch the grilling that drummer and vocalist Alessandro Benigno gives his drum kit. He achieves that tricky balancing act of full frontal vocal while ripping out the beats. And there is no shirking from his responsibility of producing a very big noise. Rock ‘n roll gives space for this and bleeding ears is definitely something to worry about tonight. This is my second time watching this Johannesburg act and I’m as impressed as ever. They give a solid and weighty performance, proving that two musicians can sound like the cries of the entire population of hell.
Back to sex. Shadowclub. They were a firm favourite of mine with the release of their second album, Goodbye, Wild Child, which got some serious airplay on radio, including mine. A distinct sound, mature songwriting…this band had it made. But then they fell off the radar, and the scene. South African rock music has been in a massive state of flux, I surmise due to the changing power of promoters and the shifting nature of festival lineups. Purists complain of the influx of the EDM scene and the cost this has had – a shrinking fan base and the closing down of space for rock. But many rock acts have clung on stubbornly to the remaining venues and their most ardent fans.
The band’s debut, The Hex and The Healer, dropped on January 25th, 2019.
Number one fangirl to the right of me at one point says to her friends, “I don’t know how they aren’t world famous” and I have to sigh. She has a point, not necessarily about Shadowclub but about the bands in our scene in general, who, like sea urchins on rocks, have stood the test of tides. Maybe their liberation is waiting across the borders of our country, but few have made successes of it – and South Africa offers a limited space for expansion. Certainly, the crowd is rather thin at Mercury that night, but in my ten plus years of covering the scene, this is not unusual.
The best part of the scene, according to me, is that new bands keep coming out of the woodwork, or old ones try their hand at the scene again – knowing that not only is the scene changing, but you are too. I mean, once you have the music within your grasp, it’s hard to let go. The Man Motels, who were the opening act that night, are one such band. A garage band from Stellenbosch, they broke up a few years back, after enjoying some moderate success with their previous lineup. Two years ago, guitarist and vocalist, Garrith Holloway, started writing songs again and re-formed (and reformed) the band with two new members. Smashing up the stage at Mercury did seem like something they’re used to, considering the ease with which they played their set. They gave a solid set, setting the bar high and easing us into the night.
Shadowclub might not be evil by they’ve been said to have the “Witches Soul.”
At one point towards one o’clock, when energy levels were seriously depleted, there came that moment when you can feel the crowd has reached the point of satiation. There is a weird calm, a reverence, a respect for the moment. We have sung our favourite songs, we have bonded over our favourite solos, we have met in the middle and we know we’ll be waiting for this moment again in a few months time. There was one audience member in particular who knew every Shadowclub lyric – impressively so, considering that they only released album number three a few months back.
Evidently, he’s absorbed it into his pores and I wish that I had sought it out and immersed myself in it before this gig, but I somehow missed the memo. I am not overly impressed with the new songs that I am hearing but I know that Shadowclub are not an easy band to love. But when you do, it’s a lifelong marriage. And that’s not just about Jacques pretty dark eyes, but about the staying power of a truly good rock song. We want more. We want it again! (And yes, I’ll buy the album.)