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C.O.F.F.I.N. / Mister Strange @ YES Pink Room review – Joyous rock ‘n’ roll carnage

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Featured image: Sam Frank Wood

Denim. Leather. A guitarist wearing both. Local quartet Mister Strange pull off their no-frills rock ‘n’ roll with more than a dash of panache. They’re scuzzy, infused with grooves, and in Tomas Walmsley’s snaps, have a singing drummer who pulls facial expressions that are usually reserved for log flume cameras. 

One guy in a white vest – formerly a t-shirt until a pair of scissors chopped the sleeves away – sprints from one side of the room to the other, setting up his own impromptu bleep test to ‘Stuck in My Head’. They’re a triumph of riffs over hooks, with the crowd drifting ever closer to the stage and head bobs becoming more pronounced, spreading to shoulders as the set progresses. 

You wait ages for a singing drummer and then two come along at once. Led from the rear by Ben Portnoy, C.O.F.F.I.N inspire levels of devotion that even the most ardent of Swifties would question. Australian fans have booked European adventures to coincide with this tour; there are spectacular customised jackets on show, while one disciple has a manhole cover-sized tattoo across his barrel of a chest.

“Buzzcocks or Oasis, eh?” Portnoy jokes from beneath his sweatband. “We’re C.O.F.F.I.N, I’m singing, let’s have at it.” As with Motörhead before them, the Sydney group unites punks, skins and metalheads, with a joyous collection of waifs and strays tumbling into each other from the opening thud of ‘Cut You Off’. 

It takes something special to command a crowd’s attention from behind a kit, but Portnoy manages it with ease. He whirlwinds his arms between tunes contrives to fall backwards – legs fully akimbo – off his stool, and invokes the boundless gruff spirit of ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage throughout his profanity-laden interludes. Despite bassist Laurence Adams pulling shapes from behind the PA and warmth exuding from lead guitarist, Abijah Rado, the rest of the band don’t carry the same sparkling pizzazz, but they are note perfect. 

There are a million bands cut from the same cloth as C.O.F.F.I.N, but there are few – if any – this accomplished. The crowd surfer carried to the back of the room and the bloke dangling upside-down from the lighting rig would agree, and that’s before Portnoy closes the show by uppercutting his cymbal. Honest-to-goodness carnage from start to finish.

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Ian Burke

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