If you’re an Australian who’s been on the internet at all recently, you’ve probably heard about the changes to the Axis of Awesome. That’s right, one member of the band has undergone a huge life change, and the first song of their show Won’t Ever Not Stop Giving Up was about the new way that person was going to live their life… as a bald man. Yes, Lee is a bald man now.
Also, Jordan’s a woman.
The tone of the show is set perfectly by the opening number – the band, while its members have undergone changes, is itself unchanged, still a ridiculous, punchy comedy band. After ten years of working together, guitarist Lee Naimo, lead singer Jordan Raskopoulos, and keyboard-ist Benny Davis really understand how to perform as a group, and the Axis of Awesome continues to age like fine wine.
The real joy in any Axis of Awesome performance is in two parts, for me. The first is obviously their cunning writing skills. Won’t Ever Not Stop Giving Up is half old songs and half new, sourced from their recently released album Viva La Vida Loca Las Vegas. When I saw the show I hadn’t yet listened to their new album, so while their new songs were hilarious – of course – their old songs were warm and familiar, and elicited the most laughter from me. Even the introduction of a song I’m very fond of – The Language of Love – had me in stitches knowing what was to come.
The second joy of Axis of Awesome is their talent. There are varying levels of ‘talent’ in terms of singing, with Raskopoulos and Davis towering about Naimo, but instrumentally Davis and Naimo are the stars… probably because Raskopoulos doesn’t actually play anything. Raskopoulos and Davis are enormously skilled both solo and in harmony, to the point where I can get caught up in how beautiful a song sounds and forget to laugh at it.
The jokes between songs unfortunately fell a bit flat, but that can be chalked up to opening night nerves. Naimo – excuse me, Jackie Change – as Sydney’s premiere Johnny Cash impersonator, gave a wonderfully silly performance, and the Will Smith raps became more and more ridiculous throughout the night, which was a delight. The one about the Pursuit of Happyness was a particular favourite of mine.
While it’s not going to be a popular opinion, I do think the social justice angle was perhaps a little too heavy handed. Yes, gender transition is an incredibly important topic to discuss, and one that is close to the heart of Raskopoulos and the rest of the band. However, their song about alternative pronouns will struggle to reach a global audience, especially as compared to another song, which was about an octopus that kept losing its legs in increasingly ridiculous accidents. I am one hundred percent behind positivity and acceptance, I just didn’t see the appeal of a song with such a niche understanding. Maybe in time, when the general public is more familiar with xe, hir, and other pronoun alternatives.
On the whole, it was an amazing evening. The band has only grown more Awesome with time, and the length of their triple partnership has produced tighter songwriting, composition, and performance.