FREMANTLE ARTS CENTRE
23 OCTOBER 2021
I’ve written a fair bit about Alter Boy over the last little while. In my review of their debut EP, Act Of God, I said that, “Alter Boy have redefined music and what it means to be disabled and, through this, our understanding of the nature and value of human existence.” Those are pretty big shoes for anyone to fill.
Now, in 2021, we’ve discovered another band that is equally, if not more, other worldly and poised just as New Order were then, to change the face of music as we know it…
So, heading down to Freo Arts Centre last Saturday to see Alter Boy launch Act Of God, it wasn’t only wondering what sort of reception I’d get from punters at the venue that made me dawdle and miss every single support act. It also was that nagging voice in my head that was saying, ‘What if you’ve got this wrong?’
I needn’t have worried on the first part. Standing in a short line at the ticketing desk while the door staff tried to sort a glitch in their online ticketing system, I was approached by a member of the event security staff. She said some lovely things that I’m going to choose not to repeat here. Just know that I walked into the venue feeling welcomed and impervious. That’s not always been my experience out in the world as trans woman.
Before the music started, I checked out the lie of the land in the venue, wandered around getting a feel for who was taking up residence in the beautiful tree-adorned outdoor space. I do this, because watching the reactions of the audience sometimes gives me as much insight for a review as what’s happening on stage. So it was this evening.
The smallish group to the front right of stage that I’d pegged as likely Alter Boy’s family, friends and — yes, already in their shortish career — fans, turned out to be exactly that. They were the ones who broke out in applause of the Auslan variety from the very beginning of tonight’s performance, waving two hands in the air and ululating like their lives depended on it. They were the ones who led from the front until, by around halfway through their set, every single one of the thousand or so strong audience was showing their love for Alter Boy in this way.
This is what it feels like to be in on the start of a movement, to be an active part of positive change. It was around then that I knew my instincts had been right. Alter Boy are capable of living up to their promise live on stage. They do have the presence to carry off the enormous task they’ve chosen for themselves.
So, job done. Thanks for having me. Time to head home.
But, but, but…the music?
Oh, yes, alright, then, let’s talk about the music, if you insist.
Except, I can’t. Well, not just about the music on its own. You see, Alter Boy are one of the most performative bands you’ll ever see. I’m trying to think of an apt comparison and there really isn’t one, so I’ll choose a few inapt (Is that even a word? Word says it is, but I feel like I just made it up.) ones to illustrate what I’m trying to say here. Imagine The Clash without Joe Strummer. Garbage without Shirley Manson. The Preatures without Izzi Manfredi. These are performers who are inseparable from their music, particularly live. So it is with Alter Boy and their triple-threat front-folk, Molly/Aaron, Laura and Jack.
But, with Alter Boy, this gestalt is taken one step further. The band incorporate Auslan into their music and performances in a way that makes the language come alive through movement, dance, performance and, at times, that enemy of what we used to know as music, silence.
The Alter Boy experience is one of full immersion in what may feel to some to be a somewhat familiar but strangely out of kilter world of performance. At least in the beginning. As the audience attested last Saturday night, Alter Boy’s world is a new normal we are ready, even hungry to embrace.
So, by around mid-set when Alter Boy reached ‘Follow Along As Best You Can’ a track for which the audio is mostly silence, we were all up for the experience. And, although the rapidly-paced Auslan being thrown down by the band would have fallen on hearing ears for the most part, it didn’t matter one bit. If fact, no, that’s wrong, it mattered a lot, because here was a mainstream audience taking a trip into the unknown world of the deaf and hard of hearing and finding it equally as rich as their own.
It was quite the trip. In fact, it reminded me of a time many years ago when I saw New Order on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury. I remember two things about that show. At one point Bernie Sumner tripped on stage and couldn’t get back to his feet without the help of the band’s road crew. The second thing I remember was that I was so moved by the music, the experience and one or two other things that, at one point, I saw the Pyramid stage, band and all take off and disappear into the night sky.
At that time, I think it was 1981, New Order were about as other worldly as it was possible to be. Now, in 2021, we’ve discovered another band that is equally, if not more, other worldly and poised just as New Order were then, to change the face of music as we know it, except this time without excluding 25 percent of their audience.
So, yes, with Alter Boy, the music, the performance lives up to the hype. They’re a trip everyone should take at least once in their lives.
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If only I could fkn spell 🙂