Review: An Evening with Henry Rollins at Thebarton Theatre

Words by Paul Maland


Henry Rollins speaks from the heart and shoots from the hip in an unrelenting, passionate stream-of-consciousness, explanation of his perceptions of the world, the people in it, and where we all fit in.

A common thought of any audience member watching a seminal artist or performer on-stage is trying to process the surrealistic fact of them being in the same city, building, and room as you at that point in time (Thebarton Theatre). Trying to contextualise the influence on popular culture of someone in the same room as you in Adelaide can be especially confusing. Often though, a renowned performer standing on a stage loses their sense of context in larger culture, and, if it’s somebody with the ability to immediately rattle-off their set without pause from the moment they hit the stage, it can almost seem no different to watching a recording (just with a different angle, and the smell of the surrounding audience members body odor.

Once you realise the sense of a personal, intimate connection is unlikely to be fostered from a performance on stage to a crowd of hundreds of people, and the material is unlikely to be specifically linked to your perception of the artist, it can be hard to place where they fit in the long, never ending mythos of pop culture in modern society. This is even harder when they’re on stage performing something totally different to what initially introduced you to them — you recognise traits from their Wikipedia page, but it’s not the same as being there in their heyday.

Henry Rollins is a performer and artist that attacks the creative industry with a jack-of-all trades approach (a self-described selfish opportunist); Henry crashed into the ears of millions and helped shape the movement of ‘80s hardcore punk music through his time in influential U.S. punk bands, Black Flag and Rollins Band, before tangentially wavering off into related fields of music, art, literature, acting, production, etc. Henry Rollins is Henry Rollins: a man renown for unrelenting, tenacious energy that creates a caricatured perception that fans, regardless of how they discovered him (even those who found solace in his performance in Jack Frost), will be able to tie to his name.

Some audiences will have found Rollins’ shtick as an opinionated, stern motor-mouth both tiring and angsty — a wearer of traits best left to the teenage angst of a punk audience. Media observers of Rollins' continued interest in the arts and social issues may even see him as a failed renaissance man, redeeming himself in old-age as, “oh so worldly” — that’s fine too.

This is where Henry Rollins’ iconoclastic approach to spoken word tours simultaneously re-enforces and contradicts the common perception of an audience member and an established, influential performer.

Rollins doesn’t take to the stage set out on justifying his attitude, energy or even his professional and creative affiliations. Rollins’ spoken word tour is an opportunity to sit and listen to a man, who has a tangible, “talk for two and a half hours without taking a breath,” passion for the words he speaks, regale you with experiences that have helped shape the views he enjoys sharing with like-minded individuals.

Rollins first joined seminal hardcore punk band Black Flag by jumping onto the stage during a gig, grabbing the mic, and blowing the band away. This lead Rollins to be recruited by the band for an audition, and being accepted as their new vocalist — all in the space of a few days after screaming the lyrics, as a fan, during a small show to which he had bought tickets.

This addition to popular culture, through being just a fan with passion for the music he loves, is reinforced by Rollins in his recounts of meeting anyone who has left their mark on him; Rollins, at fifty-five and a half, is still a screaming fan girl, and he doesn’t care who knows it. Rollins doesn’t want to be viewed as cool, because he knows he isn’t — he might have thought he was one day, and he might’ve even made it to cool back then, but he’s matured past that now.

A man with more years behind him than ahead, Henry Rollins is set on taking the stage to share his passions with fans, and help articulate his vision of a world “upgraded” by moving past the ignorance that comes in part from living in a species evolved for survival, and in part from the world which we’ve created for ourselves.

Henry Rollins has done a lot in his career, lived a lot of different experiences, and has a lot to say. Rollins’ passion about creating a better world, and leaving it still gasping for breath once he’s gone, is incredibly tangible through listening to the unwavering passion his ideas are conveyed with.

Ultimately, an evening with Henry Rollins attempts to give the audience an insight into the energy that’s helped one man achieve so much, with hope that the audience can take some of it with them in whatever it is they do — as long as it leads to a slogan better than “Make America great again”.