Idols of the Grunge Circuit, but Only on School Break

By Neil Strauss (New York Times)

The members of silverchair are living every high school rocker's dream. They are three 15- and 16-year-olds from Australia who have grown their hair long, listened to a lot of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden (and maybe a bit of the Sex Pistols and Deep Purple) and recorded an album in less than two weeks that entered the Australian charts at No. 1 and is currently No. 12 in America. Now they get to travel the western world (only during school vacations, of course), performing for capacity crowds.

On Friday night at the Academy, silverchair proved that its youth has little to do with its success. Performing nearly every song from its album frogstomp (Epic), the band motored through heavy '70s jams updated with angst-ridden punk choruses. Daniel Johns has learned a battery of techniques to get a big sound from his guitar. He played with distortion effects, scraped his hands along the guitar neck and picked high, rattling notes on the strings near his tuning pegs. Ben Gillies came down on his drum set with all the power he could muster while Chris Joannou paraded all over the stage, spitting out fast, heavy bass lines as if he were playing along with a Slayer record.

Mr. Johns sang lyrics that could keep his high school guidance counselor busy all semester. "People making fun of me for no reason but jealousy," he bellowed hoarsely in Suicidal Dream. "I fantasize about my death./ I kill myself by holding my breath."

Ten or 15 years ago, the ambition of high school bands like silverchair was to grind out heavy metal in tribute to Metallica and Black Sabbath. At the Academy, silverchair sounded as if they would have been another generic metal group if Seattle grunge rock hadn't led them astray, turned them more introspective, given them punk looseness and made them hostile to success and star status. With bands like silverchair in Australia and Bush in England, America is just beginning to feel the international response to the popularity of grunge. The next step for silverchair, currently teetering on the line between imitation and originality, is to cross that border and come up with its own hybrid, which in turn would start influencing younger groups from Seattle and the rest of America, thus turning a musical style into an international chain reaction.