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Concert Review: Children Collide, Marquis Theater, Denver, CO, 6/19/09

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Should America be preparing for another Australian Invasion?

Not quite yet, although the power trio known as Children Collide is locked, loaded, and on the move. Where this collision course takes them is still to be determined. One thing’s for sure – they’ll make plenty of noise along the way.

The three young men of Melbourne – Johnny Mackay (guitar), Heath Crawley (bass) and Ryan Caesar (drums) – are close to wrapping up their first North American tour and no doubt have blown out their fair share of eardrums in the process. Their hybrid blend of punk, pop, grunge, and hardcore heavy metal is strange but true.

Marquis Theater marquee Supporting Nico Vega for a majority of the U.S. dates, Children Collide must have been an afterthought on the Marquis Theater’s four-act bill on June 19. After all, they weren’t even on the Marquis’ marquee. That honor was bestowed upon Colorado’s own My Body Sings Electric, the headliner of this all-ages show whose CD release party (They Don’t Want Music) was the guaranteed main attraction.

So Children Collide and their tour manager (and occasional producer), Paul “Woody” Annison, went practically unnoticed as they sat outside the quaint club only an outfielder’s throw away from Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. Children Collide on the road (Annison appears at right in this photo of the band’s touring van, along with Mackay, middle, and Caesar.)

Thirty minutes before the club’s doors opened, the band found itself among pesky Rockies ticket scalpers and more charming beggars and choosers (“If you can’t give me some money, at least give me a smile,” said one). Preparing to chow down on some gooey slices from the Marquis’ own pizza joint, Annison helplessly watched one of his two pieces slip and go splat on the Larimer Street sidewalk before he reached their table. Strike 1.

With the Rockies in the midst of a streak in which they had won 13 out of 14, music of any kind was secondary on this near-perfect near-summer evening in Colorado. By the time Children Collide hit the stage at 9 p.m., only a handful of paid customers at the Marquis was paying attention. Strike 2.

And while the home team pounded the Pirates, more eyes were glued to the TV at the bar. But that soon changed.

Children Collide's Johnny Mackay Mackay (left), a handsome and magnetic force, displayed some major league power chords, unleashing the sound and the fury on an unsuspecting public. “We Are Amphibious,” off 2005’s six track EP We Three, Brave And True, made almost everyone in the house take notice, and even an adventurous few wandered onto the empty dance floor. Children Collide had connected, averting a strikeout while proving the Rockies weren’t the only game in town.

Anyway, rugby is the more popular sport in Australia, where professionals incite fan-demonium at a level once reserved for top-flight groups such as AC/DC, INXS, Midnight Oil and Crowded House. In fact, Children Collide’s first single from The Long Now, “Social Currency,” has been featured in the National Rugby League’s opening sequence for Friday Night Football in their homeland.

It’s a start, if trying to become the next Wonder from Down Under is more than just a pipe dream. Favored comparably in the press to garage rockers like the Vines, Children Collide have established a rowdy fan base in their country, supporting such acts as The Living End and the Hoodoo Gurus. In July, they’ll return home to open a number of shows for Jane’s Addiction before beginning their own headlining tour. And the nonstop, workaholic mentality should keep them going at breakneck speed.

That frenzied pace was maintained throughout their 30-minute set in Denver. Children Collide delved heavily into The Long Now, their first full-length album that was released in the States on May 26 (Filter U.S. Recordings), well after making its 2008 debut in Australia.

Children Collide trio The album’s songs are filled with futuristic jargon (“Farewell Rocketship”), environmental awareness (“Brave Robot”), and political intrigue (“Social Currency,” “Economy”), but are almost always delivered at a fevered pitch. The album’s title, Mackay explained on the band’s website, is “about an atypical view of existence. … It’s about stepping outside your own mortality and considering the universe on greater terms than simply the sum of your own years.”

Pretty heady stuff for a group that bashes your brains in during a live performance.

Of the six selections off The Long Now played in Denver, only “Cannibal” ventured into graceful mainstream territory, despite the off-the-wall lyrics (“She is a cannibal, and she likes me / Kind of ironic because I don’t eat meat”). Most of the others, including standout cuts such as “Across The Earth,” “Skeleton Dance” and “Chosen Armies,” were exploding bits on energy that jolted an easy-going crowd settling in for a night of steady but safe rock.

Children Collide duo This was a total shock to their senses. Only a cramped stage could keep these Men (Dressed) In Black in place. Crawley and Mackay (from left), who together formed the group in 2004, nearly collided (how fitting) as they stalked the stage. Crawley, resembling a Clash-era Joe Strummer and young Casey Affleck, played some thunderous riffs while working in sync with the precision pummeling provided by long, tall Caesar, the lean-and-not-so-mean drummer (in a Wipers tee) who was added to the lineup in 2007.

Mackay comes across as a cross between two late and great rock icons – INXS frontman (and Aussie demigod) Michael Hutchence and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain – a powerful presence who won’t be ignored.

Flailing away on his Fender, which he often thrusts into parallel position, Mackay stays in perpetual motion. His shaggy hair often hides the face of a masked man pouring out his heart and soul to the audience while wearing out his vocal cords.

Marquis Theater poster As sweat dripped from his T-shirt sporting a black panther (the animal, not the party), Mackay let out a whale of a climactic wail on “Fire Engine,” showing no mercy in leading the trio’s all-out assault on their instruments. The thrash-and-burn finale (also from We Three, Brave And True) was a fitting way to exit the Mild, Mild West. Departing behind a wave of distortion and feedback, Children Collide carried out a well-executed sneak attack before heading east.

Now Denver knows what the rest of America might soon discover: Children Collide have arrived.

• For Children Collide news, videos, concert dates and more, go to their website or MySpace page.
• For a limited time, go to universalmusic.net to get a free three-track download (“Social Currency,” “Economy” and “I Am Sold”).
• See the National Rugby League’s opening sequence for Friday Night Football that features “Social Currency” below:

• See a video clip of Children Collide playing “Fire Engine” at the Marquis Theater in Denver:

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About Michael

  • suzanne

    Good review. Was one of the few to see them and I did enjoy them, especially when they would almost COLLIDE on stage.However, Earplugs are needed for their performance.

  • Michael

    Thanks for the comments, Suzanne. They are a loud band, but also have a lot of musical talent, too. I’ll be surprised if they don’t eventually catch on in the U.S.