Review: Happy Mondays at Metropolis Fremantle
Madchester icons Happy Mondays brought their 24 Hour Party People tour to Metropolis Fremantle on Wednesday night.
Happy Mondays have always been a hard act to pin down. As part of the legendary Factory Records stable in Manchester, they spearheaded one of music's most unlikely, and intriguing movements. Their undeniably danceable brand of rock was at the epicentre of the Madchester, or 'baggy' scene, that like the Mondays themselves, celebrated excess and refused to consider the morning after.
The fact that such a band has survived now, albeit in different incarnations, for 40 years, is probably the most remarkable part of their story. With founding member, bassist Paul Ryder sadly passing away in 2022, it felt all the more pertinent to have the opportunity to see them perform live here in Perth.
With Metropolis Fremantle packed out from the beginning, support act Greenhouse were pumped up and brought the crowd with them. The band, who formed in Geelong in 1988, were reanimated in 2020 to finalise some of the group's unfinished business, such as that elusive debut record. Since then they've been back on the road and playing to audiences they never reached back in the day.
The band's Madchester-meets-Shoegaze sound made them a great fit for the occasion. Frontman Michael Robinson's vocals were part Ian Brown, part-Gallagher brothers, leading the group through a set that felt like James performing The Charlatans. The closing song, recent single Finally Over, sent them out on a high.
As the stage went dark during the changeover, the crowd began pressing in closer, eagerly awaiting the main attraction. The screen behind the stage then lit up with the iconic and colourful Wrote for Luck cover artwork, and one by one, Happy Mondays entered the stage to the cheering crowd.
Launching right into a batch of their best songs, Rowetta was eye-catching and lively from the get-go, swinging tassels around and sharing the mic duties. God’s Cop and Donovan were early highlights, with the dual vocal attack landing blows on Dennis and Lois.
Bez arrived for Loose Fit, and also caught the eye with some moves of his own, jangling round the stage with his soundless maracas and pausing with a smile for the occasional photo opp.
Shaun Ryder looked like some kind of spy with a hat and sunnies on, always seeming like he was remembering the words as he went. Ryder was never a strong vocalist in the traditional sense, but his bizarre lyrics and slacker style have been part of the charm. Likewise, his banter between the songs, particularly with Bez, was pretty much unintelligible, and by comparison, he made the late Mark E. Smith seem like the world’s most gifted orator. Yet he still had the crowd laughing along and the party vibes kept pulsing. “Anyone from Salford down here?" he asked to a handful of cheers.
The songs were stronger when Rowetta took the lead on the mic. After seeing the group in the early days, Rowetta knew she could bring a pop-sensibility to the band that would help bring them to a wider audience, and the group’s trajectory since her addition to the band, right before the group’s breakout 1991 LP, Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches is testament to this.
The live band consisted of Mike Shine from Black Grape on bass, plus original guitarist Mark Day and drummer Gary Whelan, with Dan Broad on the keys. Seeing these instruments performed live only highlighted how unique, and elusive, their sound is. The guitar style in particular seems to contain no traces of punk, blues, rock, or folk. It truly was a one-of-a-kind style at the time and it still is today.
It might be hard to ascertain why all of this works, but when it all clicked it was something to behold. Happy Mondays' strongest tracks are when they all feel like one collective dance organism. Hallelujah and Step On had the crowd peaking, with the songs capturing the transcendental nature of the drugs that most likely inspired them.
Happy Mondays then exited the stage briefly before returning for fan favourite, and probably their best ever track, Wrote For Luck. A song that pulls you into its world of grooves and repetition, some fans could have happily kept dancing to it on repeat all night.
Seeing the Mondays live highlighted what a truly unique group they are – and how fortunate we are to be able to see them perform half a world away in Perth all these years later.