Tokyo Shock Boys – 20th Anniversary Show
Tokyo Shock Boys @ Thebarton Theatre
8:00pm, Fri 26 Feb 2010
Waaaaay back when I was but a young country boy, eyes wide open with hope and excitement at the thought of moving to Adelaide to study, my older brother would tell me tales of his adventures in the Big Smoke. One such tale was of him being dragged by a friend to see the Tokyo Shock Boys, and his descriptions of the bizarre acts that were performed that evening seemed, frankly, unbelievable to my naïve ears. Then, in 2004, I managed to see the Shock Boys for myself – but, because of my exposure to other such acts, I was distinctly underwhelmed. Yes, there was a bit of spectacle to be had, but (as I said back then) most of the same stunts could be seen elsewhere, in a more engaging environment, for less money.
But, with their 20th anniversary this year, I thought I’d give the Tokyo Shock Boys another chance – and, in an attempt to create some sort of holistic cycle sort of thing, I invited my brother along (who immediately asked if his 10-year-old son could come too – the idea of which I find horribly irresponsible). Thebby Theatre was stinking hot this Friday night, and being wodged in the middle of Row H behind a gaggle of cackling Bacardi Breezer-fuelled women was certainly a stifling experience made all the more uncomfortable by the fact that nothing whatsoever happened onstage until about 8:25… nearly half-an-hour after the scheduled start time.
Even then, it wasn’t the act that we were expecting to see – Jacques Barrett came out to perform a bit of standup, and he was good enough with the packed crowd to warrant further investigation. The problem is that he wasn’t what we were there to see; the crowd didn’t need that (or, indeed, any other) warm-up. And, after a brief intermission(!), the Tokyo Shock Boys show proper started at about 9pm.
And it started with a 10-minute highlight reel, projected onto a big screen; video taken from other shows of the act we were about to see. Now, I don’t know whether this drives any crowds wild – I would certainly assume it does, because they would have to have been honing their act for twenty years now – but tonight’s crowd, hot and flustered, weren’t really buying into it… at all. So when the real, live, Shock Boys appeared and tried to get the audience clapping and chanting… it all fell a bit flat. They really had to work to get any response.
And once they got going, it was pretty much what you expected – breaking stuff with arsecheek clenches, darts being thrown into backs, superglue and liquid nitrogen hijinks. The scrotal tug-of-war was wince-inducing, but not as much as the embarrassing Michael Jackson segment. All the Tokyo Shock Boy staples (hah!) were there, right down to the thumping DJ-driven backing and vacuum-sealing stunts.
The thing is, it all feels… well, lame now. Sure, there are tricks there that you don’t see anywhere else, but with the size of Thebby it all feels really remote, almost unreal. And the progression of shows that pack people into the Garden has really expanded what we expect from this sort of freak-show.
I think the overall take-away from this show is revealed in the conversation I had with my brother when we were walking to where he’d parked his car.
“They looked really… old,” he said.
“Yep,” I agreed.
“Hmmm. How much were the tickets, again?”
And that pretty much sums it up. The Tokyo Shock Boys: they were (I assume) great in their prime, but now they just look old and tepid and past it.