This show by the Ukulele Death Squad is dedicated to the band’s “Squad Father”, the late Bruce Riley, who was responsible for the conception and rise of the Adelaide-based group.
A moving tribute kicks off the gig with video footage of Riley playing his uke and singing. It’s a mellow and classy start to the set, which quickly descends into the raucous and exhilarating abuse of an instrument conventionally reserved for contemplative hippies.
The four-piece band (plus one “gingerbread man” on lead vocals who has not quite earned “official band member” status yet) tear apart an eclectic collection of original songs and covers. It’s a bit rock, a bit disco, a bit flamenco, a bit folk and a whole lot of fun.
The Regal Theatre is not an ideal venue for leaping to your feet to dance but that didn’t stop a few audience members who were lucky enough to be seated where an aisle was easily accessible. The rest of us sat clapping frustrated in comfortable seating.
In their natural habitat (a pub, say, or the outdoors), the Ukulele Death Squad exude a contagious energy that sees audience members kicking back enjoying the mellow one minute, then engaging in the high energy shift the next. But even in the theatre they earned a standing ovation, which was followed by an excellent mash-up of well-known covers.
There is something genuinely exciting about artists challenging conventions in a way that is executed so well. More than just playing unexpected tunes and arrangements, this ukulele band embody the attitude, swagger, style and sense of humour that truly does put the humble four-stringed instrument back in dangerous squad-father territory.
A fitting tribute to the man who had a vision of a hard-core ukulele gang.
Ukulele Death Squad are presenting The Squad Father again at the Regal Theatre at 4pm and 7.30pm on March 14. Ukulele Death Squad founder Benjamin Roberts is also presenting the Fringe show Uke Springsteen at the Grace Emily hotel on February 25 and March 3 and 10.
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