Which brings us to Smaller than Jesus. It is certainly impressive that a comedy/music act such as this has a large enough repertoire to be able to mount a two-act show predominantly consisting of Christmas-themed songs (although their rapid songwriting abilities are apparently one of Tripod’s claims to fame).
And what a show it was. The warm-up act by stand-up comic Sam Simmons was sure to give anyone who was likely to be offended by Tripod fair warning, as he was by far more brazenly tasteless and outright bizarre than just about anything to follow. Describing himself as mildly autistic, his quasi-musical act portraying himself as a cat-obsessed geek, punctuated with frequent screaming outbursts and some very oddball non-sequiturs. In fact, his act is so “random” that one wonders if he even had any sequiturs in the first place (ba-boom). Although he got some good laughs, Simmons did seem on the verge of losing the crowd at points, but he more than made up for it with his closing routine, bringing the house down with his medley of Christmas carols such as “Good King Wenceslas” and “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” to the indelible tunes of John Williams’ Star Wars score.
Although almost sedate by comparison, Tripod emerged after a short break and things really got going. It was readily apparent that I was the novice amongst a sea of devoted fans, as several songs only got through their opening few bars before the crowd erupted in delighted recognition. However, you certainly don’t have to be a devotee to get a huge kick out of this multi-talented act.
For those of you even more ignorant than me, Tripod is a three man comedy band who sing a wide variety of musical styles with their own unique brand of very witty lyrics. There is an edge of satire to a lot of what they do, but much of their appeal lies in the fact that they choose to sing about topics so mundane, niche or just otherwise unexpected that the clash between the way they’re earnestly singing and what they’re actually singing about tends to be intrinsically hilarious. That, combined with the fact that their deftly-written songs generally take an unexpected narrative twist just layers more comedic cherries on top.
Their act also has a lot of apparent improv and is riddled with asides, many of the songs including significant elements of performed conversations or feigned arguments between the members. There were, however, some genuine instances where the group were flying by the seat of their pants, as they had to respond to hecklers and made quite a meal of heckling us back. In one case early on a man rose and left, prompting Gatesy to actually leap off the stage and run after him, dragging a completely different man back into the auditorium and forcing him to sit in the vacated seat for a couple of songs!
One of the other delights of Tripod is their clear self-characterisation, an aspect which makes them as much akin to stand-up comics as to other satirical musicians. Scod is the “geek chic” lead guitarist, Gatesy serves as something of a frontman, while Yon is “the weird one” who is afforded some of the more extreme moments.
To talk too much about the songs they played would be a disservice to those who wish to see the show, but there were certainly some noteworthy standouts. Their mostly Christmas-themed ditties included inserting Billy Bragg into the life of Christ, Fabian the deformed reindeer (who’s also a tosser), and a hilarious parody of “Little Drummer Boy” as the tale of a musician who rises to fame, crashes from drugs and sinks into obscurity, who’s identity is gradually revealed to be Daryl Somers (seriously though, what is it with Gen Xers and Daryl-bashing…?).
The “geek” tone set by Simmons was brought to a high point with a Wolfmother/Led Zep-style rock-out entirely about the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, with the audience absolutely in the palm of their collective hand. At one point they were even heckled into playing a past favourite, “The Hotdog Man”.They took it as a compliment, with Scod quipping “what other band gets heckled to play their own songs?”
A particular delight in their encore was the culmination of a running (but apparently true) gag about how Tripod had been complaining on radio that morning that they had arranged for Damien Leith to drop in for one number but he had bowed out, prompting them to audition live on air anyone who knew the particular Pogues song in question. By complete coincidence, their winner was the lovely Claire Fearon, who had once played the lead in a play I directed some years ago. She did a great job providing the female side of the “duet”, complete with a lilting Irish accent.
A big night was had by all. If you're in the mood for some great singing, superbly clever lyrics or simply to just laugh your arse off, Tripod’s Smaller Than Jesus is the best Christmas act around.
Smaller Than Jesus
Venue: The Tivoli, 52 Costin Street, Fortitude Valley
Date: Saturday 1 December
Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au or 13 2849
Venue: The Metro, 624 George Street, Sydney
Date: Thursday 6 December
Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au or 9550 3666
Venue: The Governor Hindmarsh, 59 Port Road, Hindmarsh
Dates: Wednesday 12 & Thursday 13 December
Bookings: www.venuetix.com.au or 8340 0744
Venue: The Corner Hotel
Date: Thursday 20 December
Bookings: www.cornerhotel.com or 9427 9198