“Viva La Vida Loca Las Vegas”
Axis of Awesome Gilded Balloon Touring UK and internationally 2014 and 2015 Reviewed 18th August £14 4 stars
If you saw Axis of Awesome coming down the street towards you, you’d recognise them instantly as a comedy troupe. Not just because, with upwards of 60 million YouTube hits, they’re one of the most famous Antipodean exports since Paul Hogan. Rather, because they look exactly like a comedy troupe should.
Even their silhouettes are classically funny. I’m no expert, but I’m fairly sure the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for ‘group of clowns’ resembles this trio – a fat one, a short one, a tall skinny one.
Axis of Awesome know what you expect from them, and they play it up. Jordan is chubbily boisterous. Lee is awkward and gangly. Benny is the straight man and the butt of many a short joke. And, of course, they’re happy to indulge the crowd with a climactic update of their hit ‘Four Chords’.
But although I share their suspicions that many turn up to Viva La Vida Las Vegas expecting a one-hit wonder and some predictable slapstick, I’m confident that most will walk away with a new appreciation for their considerable musical and sketch comedy talents. Their range is far wider than might be thought, given their pop sensibilities and geeky manchild concerns (they’ve a Game of Thrones song, and Jordan has a Warhammer tattoo).
Sure, they do the song and dance routine. But they demonstrate some impressive musical ability – songs good enough to listen to on their own merit – while using that talent to dissect musical tropes, much in the same way observational comedians undermine cultural artefacts by mimicking them.
Having said that, it’s not all weightless Warhol glorification of pop music. There’s absurdity, bathos, and social commentary. There’s their captivating dance along the tightrope of political commentary and political incorrectness, carried off with larrikin charm. There’s choke-wanking.
With a background in sketch and improv, both their scripted banter and unscripted diversions are solid. On the night I attended, they made good work out of a recurring technical problem. Audience interactions are also a highlight, and never feel like an imposition.
My only complaint with Viva La Vida Las Vegas is that it’s a victim of its own success. Axis of Awesome do fine in a large venue with large venue-style material. But I’d love to see them do a more intimate show, with more opportunity to freestyle and connect with the audience. They’re are a likeable bunch, and I wonder if the geometry of the group is fractal rather than pointillist: the smaller they go, the more they expand. At the end of the day, however, the essential shape of the show is clear – a fat one, a short one, and a tall skinny one.