Anthem feat. Black Box @ Sydney Masonic Centre (13/03/10)

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I remember 1990. Lazy afternoons skipping homework to take in the golden era of television; a strict diet of Double Dare and Degrassi Junior High. And at the same time, a musical education. Technotronic, Snap!, C&C Music Factory, Black Box …it was a big year, friends, a big year. At the time I couldn’t have imagined that 20 years later I would be dancing to the same music at a gig headlined by one of those…inspirational outfits. I mean, at the time I didn’t even know what a gig was.

Yes, two full decades have passed since Black Box’s heyday, but in recent times Sydney has gone retro-crazy. AC/DC, Salt N Pepa, George Michael, Whitney Houston, Pixies, Massive Attack and Orbital have all played in the last month. Some of these iconic acts are playing and producing as well as ever, but some of these stars aren’t shining so bright.

So who knew what to expect as we waited for Black Box to hit the stage? You couldn’t have guessed it: producer Daniele Davoli took to the decks and kicked things off with… Rock With You by Michael Jackson. Okay, didn’t know this was a Black Box record…where’s the singer? This gave way to a chuggy, if poorly mixed, set of house records that was the soundtrack for a lot of head-scratching from the crowd. Where was she?

Finally, after about 20 minutes, Charvoni sashayed onto the stage. A big woman with a big presence, her revealing costumes, huge bling and glam makeup were pure camp. Her one-liners were hilarious too. After opening with Everybody Everybody, she took in the front row of screaming punters and quipped, “You’re too young to know this song!” And then, midway through Strike It Up, she looked at a fan singing along with her and said, “Baby, you’re gonna take my job!

It’s got to be a weird feeling to travel around the world and find a crowd of people that remember all the words to songs that most people forgot about 20 years ago.

Two songs down and Charvoni paused for a costume change, leaving Davoli to soldier on for another bracket of house records. I almost lost my shit when I heard him playing a remix of Strings Of Life, and the crowd went beserk when he started mixing in Ride On Time on top of that. And there was Charvoni, back on stage to belt out the song that everyone was waiting for.

It was a pretty epic moment, dancing to the anthem, pyrotechnics showering the crowd in streamers, looking around at one of the most diverse crowds I’ve ever seen at a dance party all united in their love; their tragic, tragic love of a retro classic. Seriously, there were chinstrokers, promoters and journos from across the ‘serious’ realms of prog, house, tech and dnb…all there to get their guilty pleasure.

But soon enough it was time for another costume change. If I was starting to feel like I was at one of Whitney Houston’s recent concerts, that was confirmed when Charvoni returned to attempt Fantasy. Like Whitney, her voice commanded the stage when she could belt out the uptempo numbers, but she couldn’t carry the ballads. Then again, the song was never Charvoni’s – she joined the group in 1994, long after the group’s time in the charts was done. And that was it from Charvoni, with Davoli ending the set with the very curious choice of We Are Your Friends – damn, I must be pretty freaking old if Justice is old skool.

So I don’t think you could say Black Box’s star is shining as bright as ever, but their performance was gold in some parts, and fun (or funny) when it wasn’t. Whether it was Charvoni’s out of control costumes, looking next to you and seeing a 50-something motherly type dancing as hard as anyone at the front of the crowd, or watching Davoli fumble his way through lyrics he had to read from a print-out, it was a night of kitsch hilarity.

Was the night a success? I’m not sure. I know I had fun. But it was a strange proposition, mashing the regulars from a reasonably enduring old-skool night with a decidedly non-raver crowd, and seeing how they settled after being asked to part with $65. That’s been the thing about this retro revival – ticket prices adjusted for inflation and ageing artist ego. They haven’t all been money-spinners – Guru Josh was meant to be appear at a festival where tickets started at $130, but it’s been ‘postponed’.

I was really looking forward to seeing what the likes of Alex Taylor and Dave Kirkpatrick would come up with at this party, but they were cut along with the bulk of the line-up and an entire room without warning or a refund/drop in ticket price. Instead, Black Box were sandwiched between Paul Holden and Southend banging it out ‘ard at a much higher pitch. I enjoyed a bit of Southend – but most of the crowd exited pretty quickly.

Anthem organiser Tom E was up next and played a blistering set of cheesy anthems. My god, it is so tragic yet FUCKING AWESOME to jump about to weapons like Motiv8Rockin’ For Myself, Culture BeatMr Vain and Real McCoyAnother Night. Tom E stitched the tunes together well and got what was left of the party jumping – definitely the set of the evening.

I have had many a fun night at the hands of Craig Obey, so I wasn’t expecting poor mixing, setting the bass to ‘distorted’, or playing the intro to Rhythm Is A Dancer and abruptly sliding into the next track before that classic had properly begun. There were some big moments with The KLF et al getting an airing, but the floor was emptying, and bars were shut before Anthem’s other frontman DJ Aladdin had stepped up to the decks.

In the end, it was an up-and-down night, but that is not the lasting memory – what I remember about the night is the big fun, big laughs and some even bigger dancefloor moments. Thanks, Anthem, for getting me jumping around without a care in the world in a way I haven’t done since I was a school-kid in 1990.

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