Yelawolf performs at SXSW, march 2014. (Getty Images)

Fight music: punters and punchers at Yelawolf

What is it with fights and the Logan Campbell Centre? Don Rowe attends Yelawolf and narrowly avoids a hiding. 

The jungles of South East Asia have nothing on the humidity inside the Logan Campbell Centre in early summer. Truly the place must be seasoned like an old wok with the accumulation of thousands of punters’ gig sweat. And while there are no tropical infections on display, tempers were flaring up all red and angry-like at Yelawolf on Thursday night.

Yela himself was on fine form, taking stage looking like a hillbilly Rosie the Riveter with a tasselled denim vest and red headband, and launching straight into the Eminem-esque ‘Empty Bottles’. Yelawolf has a diverse body of work at this stage – ‘Daddy’s Lambo’ is bloody eight years old at this point mates – and there’s enough there for the casuals to get into while keeping the hardcores satisfied. But, *gasp shock horror*, there’s something about aggressive rap that gets people fired up. The problem is when that spills over into straight brawling in small spaces.

I mean, it kind of is fight music. Some real angry redneck shit, like Eminem with less of the humour and more of the rage. But it’s still such a drag to get cracked by a stray shot from the inevitable crop of shirtless juicers who can’t figure out if they’re at a concert or reenacting the best bits of Snatch. Yelawolf isn’t where you’d take your mum (or her mum) but there’s a difference between moshing and treating a crowd like a fleshy dojo for your kung fu hands. And it’s not a one-off – Schoolboy Q had similar issues at his show late last year.

By the third track, ‘Push Em’, more than a few people near the front were getting pissed, and before long the shirts were off. Meanwhile, the security did their best to kill any real positive vibes, spraying the crowd like they were disciplining a pack of naughty cats and bringing down so many shoulder-riders and crowd-surfers that Yelawolf stopped the show for a quick korero: “Guys chill out, I came a long way to be here, I don’t need to be policed.”

It was a good line, right up there with “Fuck Donald Trump and fuck Hillary Clinton too”, because this is 2017 and that’s what we do at gigs now.

For my money security could have filled more of their quotas if they had simply cast an eye over the drinks line. I may have missed their response, but it seemed to me people were selling pills with pretty stunning openness. I’m all for people enjoying themselves but have some subtlety, eh? It might be Yelawolf but there’s always room for a bit of decorum.

Live footage from inside Logan Campbell. Image: YouTube.

The setlist dragged for a bit post-brawls, and newer tracks like ‘Get Mine’ fell flat to my ears. Admittedly, I’m not so familiar with the Trial By Fire album so maybe I’m just a bit of a normie, but all two of the people I interviewed/bummed a smoke from outside felt the same way. But the band was tight, with guitarist Grant Benziger switching between chuggy-gat and bluegrass banjo and drummer Keegan Kelly putting in his best Travis Barker impersonation – a formidable achievement, especially with DJ Franky One Finger going full Slipknot at times with his scratching.

There’s a lot to be said for a live band at hip-hop shows, especially with an artist like Yelawolf who is as comfortable crooning over slide guitar to rapping to banjo solos. I saw Yelawolf play alone earlier this year at Bay Dreams after a fallout with the band, and his set there felt considerably less intense (he also spun some nonsense about how his home of Alabama is just like New Zealand, which is such a yarn). While it’s probably not possible for every act, the stand-out shows of the year for me at least were almost exclusively live bands, and this was Yela’s finest performance on these shores as a result.

The show closed with a two-song encore, finishing with genre-bending honkytonk/thrash/rap track ‘Punk’, the final line a fitting reflection of a year which has seen Alabama’s own spend more than his share of time on these shores:

“I am Yelawolf and I’m feeling right at home.”


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