REVIEW: HENRY ROLLINS @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney 19/04/10

As Henry Rollins told us, he has visited Australia more than 20 times over the years and he would have few qualms about moving here if America didn’t want him back. We’ve heard these lines from visiting bands since rock n roll was invented but from the mouth of the unstoppable, straight-shooting Rollins it comes across as a genuine confession.

Spoken word shows have been part of Rollins’ CV for a long time but now he seems to have absorbed them into his life as an essential part of his world. He travels endlessly and prefers to be on the road more than he is at home – in his utilitarian hovel as he calls it. Sydney fans still turn out in droves to listen to his rants, reports and perspectives on life and for 3 hours we endured numb backsides and less than satisfactory Enmore air conditioning to be entertained and educated.

For the early part of the show Rollins focused on the USA and its various failings and attempts to rise out of the conservative mire it has found itself in. His arguments and observations are keenly honed in that he doesn’t make disparaging remarks flippantly, rather he balances the good with the bad and conversely isn’t afraid to point out Australia’s embarrassingly slow efforts in the area of race relations over the years.

From there he heads off full steam ahead through tales of trips to Bhopal, playing the part of a white power low-life in the TV series Sons of Anarchy, judging a ladyboy contest and experiencing Bad Brains for the first time. Though these topics seem to have little in common with each other on paper, they blend into each other with such consummate ease that you are still processing the last subject when you realise Rollins is already onto riffing passionately about college graduation.

Over the years Rollins has evolved his spoken word show from tales of his punk rock days and various dead end jobs to a much wider world view. This has obviously developed with his investigative travel but the passing of time has also seen a change in attitude and a somewhat easing of the cynicism and railing against the world that was his early stock and trade. Human emotions and interactions now form the backdrop of many of his stories and a rich vein of positivity flows through his urgings for individuals to stand up and actively shape the future of the world in the 21st century.

Though Rollins can hit the emotion and revolution buttons to great effect, he is also a master of comic timing, hence his inclusion in the Sydney Comedy Festival. Repeatedly he drew laughter from serious and somber topics and he chose to bid us farewell with a cautionary tale to the gentlemen of the audience about mirrors and relieving one’s bodily tensions. It was hilarious and seat-squirming stuff and served to remind that Rollins is as much an entertainer as a journalist and promoter of common sense and considered dissent.

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