2019 Fringe Festival Review: Pussy Riot Live, ft. special guests

This event was billed from the outset as historic: Pussy Riot performing live in Australia for the first time, with a momentous line up of diverse bands and artists (Yothu Yindi, Ecca Vandal, Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, and Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir) in keeping with the theme of human rights and political protest. With many fringe-goers already catching Pussy Riot’s Riot Days at RCC Fringe, Pussy Riot Live was a night of political punk performance.

The supporting bands were all excellent. Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir opened the night with their political gospel tunes, and Rev. Billy continued as MC throughout the evening. Here for their own show, Earthalujah!, the choir did not quite manage to get the crowd dancing in the aisles, but were certainly an enthusiastic beginning to the evening. Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, whose song ‘Good Citizens’ was a hit in 2018, were magnificent. Savage has such a strong stage presence, the band has great passion, and Savage’s political lyrics nailed the theme.

South African singer-songwriter and rapper, Ecca Vandal was up next, and the crowd by this point were well and truly jumping. Vandal’s blend of rap, rock, and punk set the tone for the rest of the evening. She commanded the audience, even jumping down into the pit and dancing with the crowd for the ending. Then came renowned Australian band Yothu Yindi, who were, for me, the highlight of the night. While their slightly more laid-back style was a step down from the high energy of Ecca Vandal, the message of revolution that underpinned the night was realised in having Australia’s most celebrated Indigenous band perform, celebrating their culture, calling for change, and demanding a Free West Papua (many of the performers in all the bands wore Rise of the Morning Star tshirts). Yothu Yindi’s finale, when they brought all the bands back on stage to sing ‘Treaty’ with them was powerful and one of the most moving concert experiences I’ve had in a while.

Finally, Pussy Riot took to the stage. By this point, the concert was running well over time (the concert was scheduled for 7-10pm, but Pussy Riot took to the stage around 11.20pm). Long pauses between sets to reset the stage meant that a lot of the momentum from Yothu Yindi’s spectacular ending was lost. The set then started with an ‘avant-garde’ piece that… wasn’t for me. It didn’t seem to be for many people either, as I noticed by the end, around a quarter of the audience had left – it seemed that a lot of the audience’s good will has been used up already in running overtime. I got distracted by a couple who were hooking up in front of me and my friend, trying to work out how often they were actually breathing. However, once the performance art had finished, and the band had started playing their more mainstream (if I can use that word in regards to Pussy Riot) songs, the crowd fired up again. It was truly powerful seeing songs like ‘Wonderful War’ and ‘I Can’t Breathe’ performed live. I was absolutely exhausted by this point, as it passed midnight, but this made it truly worth it. It was even more powerful when I checked the time and realised I had started International Women’s Day dancing with a group of fired up, politically-active strangers to one of the most renowned women’s protest groups in the world.

Brydie Kosmina

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