Has anyone NOT seen Axis of Awesome perform their song Four Chords? It’s one of the most popular comedy clips ever posted on YouTube, with more than 30 million views at the last count.
It shows just how many popular songs use the same chord progression as their basis. James Blunt morphs into Black Eyed Peas into Elton John into U2 into Bob Marley…new songs are added as they (inevitably) hit the charts.
Axis of Awesome freely acknowledge that it is this clip that brings in most of the audience, but there’s more to this ‘rock and roll comedy sensation’ than one song and four chords. The three band members have their comedic roots in improv and it shows in their sparky between-song banter.
They each revel in their stage persona. Lead vocalist Jordan is the wannabe sex god who, yes, knows he looks like Jack Black. Guitarist Lee is the slightly surreal one. And keyboard player Benny, the most, ahem, compact of the boys, is the butt of many an insult about his height and youthful good looks.
They’re not particularly edgy. The only really risqué moment comes during a song about the Holy Ghost, when comparisons to Santa Claus give way to a reference to a ‘spectral rapist’. It was too much for one couple, who walked out.
It’s really all about the music. No style is sacred and they poke fun at every cliché going, from the techno blasted from young hoons’ car stereos to all those songs that you think you know the lyrics to...sort of. Bob Dylan’s nasal whine takes a battering, and they prove why German is definitely not the language of love, at least where popular music is concerned.
How to Write a Love Song is a painting-by-numbers guide to 90s boy band ballads, from the rhyming of ‘break up’ with ‘make up’ to the endless key changes. It’s a smart – and very funny – deconstruction that strikes a chord with the Gen Xers in the audience.
A funky number called Sexual Harassment puts Jordan in the role of office sleazebag, coming onto a female colleague in a way that would soon get him fired. But listen to the lyrics...there are a lot of male singers out there peddling the same hackneyed nonsense, objectifying women with no HR department to take them to task.
As expected, Four Chords is a highlight of the show. It is a clever little piece of work, albeit one that could make you reassess the ‘talent’ of today’s hitmakers. Two songs by Lady Gaga with exactly the same chord structure? Well, at least her outfits are original.
The encore is a crazy hip hop tribute to KFC. Never thought you’d hear the Beastie Boys rapping about moist towelettes? Shut your eyes and listen. You could almost believe it is for real.
Axis of Awesome do what they do very well. They are perceptive, witty and – with the possible exception of Lee – can actually hold a note.
But if they want to avoid the ‘one hit wonder’ label and reach a younger audience, they might have to update their references. Bob Dylan and 90s boy bands don’t seem particularly relevant in today’s world of downloads and tweets. Adding new songs to Four Chords isn’t enough. It would be a shame if this YouTube sensation has had its day.
The Axis of Awesome World Tour 2006
Venue: Metcalfe Playhouse | 12 Lake Street Northbridge
Dates: 6 – 8 Feb, 2012
Part of the 2012 Perth Fringe Festival