Live Review plus Gallery: MONA FOMA Festival – TISM, Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, Mulga Bore Hard Rock, Cataract Gorge, Launceston 02.03.2024

Feature Photography: Arun Kendall

The Cataract Gorge is an unique geological formation almost right in the centre of Launceston where a river cuts through the rocks and a deep flat valley has emerged, replete with zip lines and a public swimming pool. It was a fitting and magnificent setting for the last finale of the MONA FOMA Festival – away from the centre in Hobart and a free gig featuring one of Australia’s most beloved and quite frankly absurd bands, TISM (formerly fully know as This Is Serious, Mum) – art provocateurs who would swear blindly at being called such a pretentious name. With Cash Savage and the Last Drinks and Mulga Bore Hard Rock on the bill, there was something enticing being served up.

TISM famously broke up after their first gig back in the eighties and continued to play reunion gigs ever since. However, since 2006 they appeared to have gone into hiatus for 18 years, returning in 2022 where they have since played three or four mostly secret gigs. The billing at the Festival was therefore something special and drew fans in from all around Australia. Dressed like some sort of paramilitary outfit – anonymous and weird, the band has generated an almost cult like following – the fields of Cataract Gorge were filled with gangs of devotees dressed in TISM merchandise and even tattoos.

But while the main course for the evening’s fare was special, the entrees were just as spectacular, leading to an amazing night.

Mulga Bore Hard Rock are basically a bunch of teenagers from an outback community in the Northern Territory whose devotion to glam rock and Kiss ended in a fairy tale when they supported their idols on the last Australian tour. Dressed in black and faces painted in a Kiss homage, this band surpassed all expectations – drawing in a sound perhaps more comparable to AC/DC than KISS, they produced a thumping set of originals which were infectious and joyous. Alvin Manfong, singer and guitarist was a consummate showman with his easy banter and call and response interaction with a very enthusiastic crowd.

Every rock trope was present – one of the two bass players doing his best Gene Simmons impressions with an impressive tongue – and there was a decent amount of Status Quo-like formation posing – but ultimately, the band created some banging anthemic tracks like ‘Big Train’ and ‘Game Not Shame’ which punctuated the warm air with thunder and lightning.

This wasn’t ironic, it wasn’t cloaked in a clever self-deprecating mantle nor was it an amateur hour tribute band that was patronisingly put on the bill: Mulga Bore Hard Rock played authentic and pure hard rock expressed joyously and with passion.

Cash Savage and the Last Drinks were the meat in the sandwich of serious indie rock placed between two less serious slices of bread. They put on performance that was mesmerising and immersive – songs filled with a searing power and authenticity. Savage on stage reminded me of the late great Ron S Peno from Died Pretty: she prowled around with a burning intensity, interacting with her band members, staring challengingly out at the audience, sometime eyes closed, concentrating, feeling every note, expressing every lyric. And yet once I saw a smile escape as she listened, eye closed, to the instrumentation giving expression to her brilliant song writing.

Savage’s songs were filled with flaming passion – she spoke and sang of mental health challenges, the doomsday prospects of climate change and the future facing her kid, the horrors of Gaza – a series of grim reminders of the vicissitudes of life. And yet her band and her performance were testament to the power of art and creativity: euphoric and transcendent.

Songs such as ‘So This Is Love’, title track to their lauded album last year, ‘Every Day Is The Same’ and ‘Keep Working At Your Job’ were sonic missiles, and the band reached into their back catelogue with songs like ’95km to Sandy Point’

Powerful and enigmatic as Savage was as the focal point, her band were just as incredible – creating layers of sound building up to a crescendo that ebbed and flowed throughout the set. I noticed the mosh pit filled early with TISM fans – drawn by the magnetic music. This one one of the most exciting and memorable performances I had seen in a long while.

The anticipation for TISM was palpable and the crowd chanted TISM are wankers in advance (referencing perhaps their fourth studio album The set commenced with a corporate lecture on some obscure topic commencing at the back of the stage – TISMTalk – where a scholarly corporate presenter gave a lecture to students. This absurd presentation continued for the entire length of the gig – in the odd silent moment you could still hear the presenter genuinely giving the lecture and the group even having a tea break and mingling amongst themselves at one point. Quite bizarre, but given the nature of a TISM gig, not unexpected.

Of course TISM enter the fray with a bang and the performance set off like an out of control rocket once Ron Hitler-Barassi (not his real name- of course!) gave his standard pre-gig lecture. The formation dancing, the frantic movements and the sheer level of uncontrolled chaos was intoxicating. Life and limb were in danger as members frequently entered the crowd – the seemingly paper coverings of the band’s outer wear didn’t last long and one member was left in his undergarments as the evening progressed.

But their riotous frat boy behaviour and anarchic quasi military/corporate buffoonery couldn’t hide one simple fact: TISM are actual musicians who are adept at their craft and write the most brilliant pop sings. This is was never more evident than their delivery of ‘Greg! The Stop Sign!’ – a pure pop masterpiece replete with Beach Boys harmonies and dynamic instrumentation. The other hits were delivered with style – ‘I’m On The Drugs That Killed River Phoenix’, ‘Death, Death’, Death, ‘Saturday Night Palsy’ and ‘I Drive A Truck’ and a couple of new songs were aired – ‘Old Skool TISM’ ‘(whose lyrics were originally recited as a diatribe at the end of the 2022 secret shows), ‘Somebody to Hate’ and ‘Destroy All Art’, as well as a new version of ’40 Years – Then Death’, entitled ’14 Years – Then Death’.

It was riotous, anarchic, terribly cathartic and an explosive end to a brilliant festival that just keeps getting better every year.

Feature Photograph and Gallery: Arun Kendall

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