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The Sydney Opera House is a beacon for Australian high society and culture, and has been since opening back in the early 70s. But of course, times change, and as the years have gone by the Opera House has played host to more and more left-field acts, perhaps none more so than since the Vivid Festival has sprawled out and made itself quite at home in the iconic Sydney venue. Vivid has seen the Opera House open its doors to bands like the Pixies, Tame Impala, Brian Eno and Lou Reed, but Saturday evening’s Repressed Records party took the cake in turning the famed Joan Sutherland Theatre into a blaring rock and roll slaughterhouse, thanks very much to local garage legends, Royal Headache.

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Photo by Orlando Sydney 

In a night the Sydney Opera House will remember, Royal Headache remind us that they are up there with the greats of Australian rock and roll.

Repressed is the go-to record store in Sydney, a musical landmark and one of the remaining few that is truly independent and dedicated to putting out incredible local records, particularly from punk, garage and alternative bands. It’s a pretty awesome thing that the Opera House would open it’s doors to such an institution, and an even more so since the folks from Repressed managed to pack out a venue as massive as the Joan Sutherland Theatre and its 1,500 seats. The whole Sydney Opera House forecourt was pretty electrified, thanks in part to the insane visuals that crawled around the Opera House and its surrounding landmarks. This was to be no ordinary show.

Exhaustion and Kris Wanders opened the proceedings in brilliant, mind-expanding fashion. The project is collaboration between Melbourne psych thugs Exhaustion, who make gritty, noise-rock influenced psych music, and Dutch saxophonist Kris Wanders. The experience took a little bit of getting used to and is absolutely something you have to lose yourself in. It comprises of a fluid, free jazz experiment, combined with sporadic, manic drumming and even wilder guitar work. It was a little abrasive to begin with, with no real tempo or set rhythm to keep your mind in check, but once I realised that those things don’t really matter in the realms outside of pop music, it became a transportive experience, one that would be as enthralling as it was discomforting.

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Blank Realm offered a break from the wild free jazz experimentation of Exhaustion and Kris Wanders with their breezy psych pop. Where the latter performed angularly, using wild dynamics to create expressions (due to the lack of vocals, or even a steady kick drum), Blank Realm were relaxed and fluid. However, filling the cavernous theatre with sound proved a task a little too adventurous for the Brisbane quartet – especially in comparison to the mayhem that lay ahead. The performance seemed a bit brittle, despite their impressive stage presence, and this was a crowd that was absolutely pining for something more.

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And more they got. Royal Headache took to stage with a crowd that was absolutely teeming with energy. It took no longer than one song to get the whole Joan Sutherland Theatre out of their seats, and nobody even thought of sitting down again. Shogun’s energy as a frontman is unrivalled. He has the vigour of Mick Jagger, but where Mick struts across the stage like an impressive cock, Shogun tears around like a shirtless madman, and it’s no wonder the crowd could hardly contain themselves from getting up there with him.

I’m sure by now most have seen the media reports on the ‘mayhem’ that graced the Sydney Opera House that night, but what one might see as puerile anarchy, was really just an expression of love for the music. One that, in any other circumstance, would hardly have been noticed, let alone been a cause to end the show. The five minutes of silence that came after the stage invasion seemed to hang heavy on the band as Shogun announced they could play two more songs. The reaction from the crowd was equal parts relief and disappointment, as nobody was sure if the band were going to be allowed back on stage. The pummelling energy of songs like Down The Lane and Psychotic Episode were delivered with such soul and vitriol that it’s no wonder the crowd could suppress their urges. Thankfully the band also got a chance to showcase some new material, which we can only hope will be cut in wax sooner rather than later.

It seems cruel and unfair that a band who seldom play live anymore should have their set cut so mercilessly short. But the spectacle, as a whole, is testament to the unmistakable power of the band, and of the whole Repressed family. For only  half an hour Royal Headache owned the Joan Sutherland Theatre and everyone in it. And nobody can take that away from them.

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May 26, 2015

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