Teen Sensations Silverchair Flying High and Fast

By Jane Ganahl (San Fransico Examiner)

Daniel Johns, lead singer and song writer for the Aussie trio silverchair, has been crowned the Eddie Vedder of Down Under, heir apparent to the grungy throne of Kurt Cobain. But right now the Next Big Thing in rock music is swinging like a monkey from the banisters at Slim's nightclub, signifying he's had enough of the media hubbub for one day.

After two radio interviews, one rock magazine grilling and clever avoidance of a Details photo crew in the vicinity, the band -- who played Thursday night for the first time in The City -- is ready for some fun. Johns sneaks up on bassist Chris Joannou with a rolled up paper -- Thwack! -- and skips off into the evening giggling with drummer Ben Gillies.

You see (let's just put it out there): The country's newest rock gods are well, tadpoles in the fish pond of life. Johns is the eldest, a veteran of 16. Joannou and Gillies are (hold your breath), 15. Their Cinderella story has already become the stuff of rock lore.

Just a year ago, the trio from Newcastle, Australia, entered a national demo contest, and their song Tomorrow was chosen from over 800 entries. The prize was time in a recording studio, where they recut the song. Within months, Tomorrow was the most popular song in Australia -- and this was before they even had a recording contract.

After signing with Aussie label Murmur, and with its video for Tomorrow getting heavy play on MTV, the band has come north to conquer a new continent. Each show in its current 11-stop tour has sold out in hours. At Slim's, a long line formed hours ahead, and lovesick girls waited in the wings for a glimpse. Still this "interview thing" is daunting.

"We try not to read our press; we always sound so stupid," shrugs Gillies, who co-writes some of the songs with Johns. "Me and Daniel, we were doing a radio interview once and it was really crazy -- we were laughing and talking to each other and ignoring the questions."

Hence, sighs a publicist, "We let them talk to the media one at a time now."

The lads, like puppies dying for a walk, cavort around the interior of Slim's before the show, goofing around like the guileless teens they are, looking more like surfers (which they are) than rock stars.

Critics searching for proper comparisons liken the trio's aggressive crunch to that of Nirvana or Pearl Jam. And but for his healthy cheery features Johns bears a striking resemblance to Cobain. But clearly the band doesn't care for that comparison.

"We're not anything like Nirvana," says Joannou. "We're more like Primus, or Helmet."

In fact, a listen to their hit CD frogstomp brings to mind other guitar-heavy thrash bands such as Tool and the Rollins Band, as well as early influences Led Zepplin and Deep Purple. Johns, a very good singer who at 16 borders on the virtuoso, is less like Cobain than the luminous Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. But silverchair is its own band, making it's own sound: a wonderful union of heavy metal and uplifting melodies.

And while they come off in person as shy and self depreciating, on stage it's another story. Then a charismatic intensity takes over that more experienced bands would kill to have.

For a short hour, silverchair turned up the heat at Slim's, as the packed audience surged against the stage and each other, arms outstretched toward the incendiary action on stage. The 10-song set was daring and skillful; songs turned on a dime from walking gait to a pogo-dancing gallop.

Perhaps because they are so young, the trio's song list was uneven; not all of the songs succeeded. With instruments amped to the breaking point, at times the fuzz of the bass outshouted Johns' too-fragile vocals.

But when everything was working - vocals as big as the crashing cords - it was simply astonishing. Tomorrow, a morality tale of a rich man's decent to hell, was transcendent, with Johns emoting from deep within. Other standouts: the soaring, moody Faultline, about the Newcastle quake of 1989, and Pure Massacre.

(About the only topic not yet explored by silverchair is sex. No doubt that will soon change.)

By the time the band finished its encore, Israel's Son, in a sweaty frenzy of feedback and guitar gristle, the crowd was almost too exhausted to cheer anymore. And just like that they were gone.

Said Gillies of the current hysteria: "I really don't have any idea how many records we've sold. I doubt we'll sell a million. If we do, that's fine. If we don't, that's fine. All we ever wanted was to play in garages so anything else is just cool with us."

[Thanks to Amanda for the transcript.]