The year is 1998, I was in Year 8 and just starting to discover my own musical tastes. Until one day on the radio, I heard a song that completely blew me away.
That song was ‘Prisoner of Society’, and it was released by a local trio, The Living End. Fronted by Chris Cheney on vocals and guitar, Scott Owen on the double bass, and at the time, Travis Demsey on drums. I was instantly hooked and picked up their debut, self-titled album, The Living End.
A few years later, just after I turned 18, I finally got the chance to see The Living End live. Performing at the old Palace Complex in 2003 for their Modern Artillery tour, it was also my first ever gig. Travis had sadly left the group but Andy Strachan joined on drums and has remained with the band ever since. Their energy was next level, and I couldn’t believe I was finally seeing my favourite band in the flesh. Their performance ignited a passion for live music that I have not stopped chasing.
As 2023 came around, the anniversary of their famed debut album was quickly approaching. Not just any milestone, but a whole 25 years since its release! And what a better way to celebrate than to put on one of the biggest gigs they have done in years? The special 25th Anniversary Show was announced for Melbourne’s Festival Hall and with the gig selling out in just under a week, this was one epic celebration of music that I was not going to miss!
Being an anniversary show, I knew they were going to be performing the debut album in its entirety from start to finish. Something I haven’t experienced since their 2012 Retrospective Tour. But what I wasn’t sure of was which songs were going to bookend the album with. Their opening number completely blew me away with live rarity, ‘I Can’t Give You What I Haven’t Got’, a track I have not seen performed in over 10 years. Chris, Scott and Andy kept the punches rolling with a couple of more live rarities including ‘Til The End’ and ‘Hey Hey Disbeliever’ before performing crowd favourites ‘Pictures In The Mirror’ and ‘Roll On’ from their second studio album of the same name.
Before I knew it, we were already five songs deep and the lads have left the stage. Unsure what was happening, a video popped up on the screen at the rear of the stage. The video is reminiscent of the clip, if not the exact same one, that was shown during the Retrospective Tour shows of their self-titled album. The footage showed a montage of events that occurred in the late nineties, including the shot to success the band saw upon the release of their debut studio album. It was a lovely little history lesson for the patrons at the sold-out Festival Hall concert. Each time a snippet of a track played; the packed venue continued to sing the lyrics even though the clip had moved on. It was so wonderful to hear fans singing in unison, all without the band even present.
The Living End returned to the stage to a resounding roar and jumped right into track one of their debut album with ‘Prisoner of Society’. Impressed with the vocals from the audience, Chris reminisced how we used to buy albums and study the CD booklets to remember the lyrics. The second track, another live rarity, ‘Growing Up (Falling Down)’ still had the venue singing together. As if the energy couldn’t lift any higher, the trio kicked it into overdrive with ‘Second Solution’ and ‘West End Riot’. Complete with the iconic moment of Chris jumping up onto Scotty’s double bass, the Melbourne crowd were like putty in their hands.
The production value of the show was already top notch, but it was elevated during one of my favourite songs, ‘Bloody Mary’. The whole stage fell into this deep red hue, with a colour shifting fire, dancing on the screen behind them. Then, without warning, either side of the stage ignited. Four pillars of flames lit up both ends of the stage! I was shocked. I even wrote in my notes “Actual flames, WTF”. I have never seen pyro at their shows before and it was an exciting surprise. It really added to the dramatic nature of the lyrics as the flames danced along to the chorus.
The first half of the album was rounded out with ‘Monday’ before going into yet another stellar live performance of ‘All Torn Down’, complete with the stunning middle section and guitar solo, a song I have always loved experiencing live.
And just like that, we were halfway through. Or as Chris put it, “We’ve flipped the record over”. He also went on to discuss how they were going to celebrate the special milestone and joked about how they thought of just letting the anniversary float on by without doing anything. The band went on to share that the best way to celebrate would be a giant party with a bunch of friends. Well, I think selling out Festival Hall in a week is a pretty damn good party!
The second half of ‘The Living End’ album contains some of the lesser-known live tracks, mostly because they are rarely played. It is not that these songs aren’t good. If anything, these B-Sides tracks are some of my all-time favourites. But with a discography that spans 25 years, it’s hard to get every track out there in a live setting. And because of this, it was the section of the night that I was most looking forward to.
‘Trapped’ has always resonated with me with its lyrics and the slower ska style of the music. There is also a horn section on the recording, performed by none other than Melbourne ska punk band, Area 7. With Area 7 also performing in support of The Living End that night, it was only fitting to have them up on stage to perform the song together live. A moment that will undoubtedly go down in Australian rock history and it is one that I will cherish for a long time.
Next on the list was ‘Have They Forgotten’. As soon as the band played the first couple of notes, the crowd shouted the iconic intro of “One soul, one life, one soul one life one meaning”. But Chris was not ready to start yet, instead teasing the eager crowd with his best Elvis impersonation singing the intro to ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ before ripping into the actual song, Chris knowing exactly how to hold the crowd in the palm of his hands.
Rounding out the self-titled album section of the set was ‘Fly Away’. Chris discussed with Scott about quitting a day job, Scott mentioning how he was finally able to hand in his notice to pursue a career in music, joking that he still wasn’t sure if it was going to work out. Fittingly, the next track was ‘I Want A Day’ complete with the lyrics, “I want a day, where I don’t have to go to work”. The final two tracks from the iconic album consisted of ‘Sleep on It’ and instrumental ‘Closing In’, all of which were an absolute treat to hear live, possibly for the last ever time.
The encore consisted of White Noise album classics ‘How Do We Know?’ and the concert staple, ‘White Noise’. Even changing the lyrics from “Making excuses, it’s not you it’s us” to “It’s that guy” pointing to a patron on the barrier. There was even the classic ‘E-Boogie’ where the three lads just jammed it out, Chris even using a VB stubbie as a slide on his guitar before sculling the remaining amber nectar which was received with cheers from the Melbourne crowd. Whilst they closed with ’Uncle Harry’, it was the opening of the encore that really moved me.
One of my favourite ever songs from The Living End is ‘Nothing Last Forever’, a beautifully written song that tells of love and loss. It always gets me emotional, but this time, what I witnessed was something truly special. In the 25 years of their long career, there are many that we have sadly lost. Chris affectionately dedicated the song to all those in the fandom that are no longer with us including Area 7 drummer Dan Morrison who sadly passed a couple of years ago. Standing alone with an acoustic guitar, Chris began to play, putting all his heart into the performance. Not long after, Andy and Scott re-joined the stage for them to finish out the song together.
You can give me all the pyrotechnics, visuals, lighting, confetti, and production value you want, but it is intimate moments like these that I will remember the most. A touching tribute that admittedly brought a tear to my eye.
Having spent the first three songs in the photo pit, I watched the rest of the concert from the balcony at the back of Festival Hall and honestly, it was the best viewing spot. Having full view of the stage and the mosh pit, I watched as the venue came to life during every song number, and what an incredible sight it was to behold.
Many years ago, I would catch myself in that very mosh pit, jumping around like crazy and even though I was not in amongst it that night, the energy the mosh pit exuded was incredible, a true testament to The Living End not only as musicians but as a live act. After 25 years in the music industry, they can still get a crowd rolling as hard as they did when they first started. I also noticed there were barely any phones in the air, almost as if we were all transported back to the 90s before camera phones even existed. We were all there, present, and just living in the moment.
It’s hard to believe that 25 years has passed since that iconic debut rock album. Fans travelled far and wide to attend this sold-out celebratory show in Melbourne, and after all this time, one thing is abundantly clear – The Living End can still rock it has hard as they did back then and are showing no sign of slowing down. The Living End have cemented themselves as one of, if not, the most incredible live act Australia has to offer. I will always relish the opportunity to see them perform live and have no doubt that I will get the chance to see these legends again soon.
I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to celebrate this milestone with The Living End and hope that it is not the last one that I get to experience. ‘Roll On’ has an anniversary in a couple of years, so perhaps we get the chance to party again? Until then, you can catch The Living End touring the country as part of the Red Hot Summer Tour in 2024.
The Living End performed their 25th Anniversary Show on Saturday the 4th of October 2023 in Melbourne at Festival Hall. This was a one off special concert.
For more information and ticketing on upcoming shows, visit:
Photography by Grant Alexander, the same one that wrote this review.