Hard-rocking duo Paul Currie and Laura Totten keep smiling despite a disappointing turnout at the Oh Yeah Music Centre
It’s an empty Oh Yeah centre that greets the Rhinos tonight. And, as it’s an all ages show, there is no bar, so I skulk around in the shadows while the rest of the audience – a few teenagers, some with their parents, and a guy in a Rainbow t-shirt on crutches – mill around in front of the stage.
If this dirth of interest deters punk/metal two-piece Rhinos at all, it shows nary a jot. Even as audience members drag chairs up to the stage for a comfy sit down, comedy performer turned singer, shape-thrower and seasoned shredder, Paul Currie, is out to engage them.
Currie is a wired and nervous presence on stage, eyeballing the audience, herding them about like a worrying sheepdog. Drummer Laura Totten, meanwhile, is an all together more pacific figure, lazily drawling over the mic, a soothing contrast to Currie’s eye-popping spleen.
There is nothing soothing about Totten's drumming, however. As they launch into theme tune 'Rhino', the kick drum hits me right in the belly. It sets up home there for the rest of the set, tenderising me like an angry butcher.
Occasionally Currie can’t help moving into comedy spiel. 'Are you Crockett or Tubbs?' he intones lugubriously over the PA. His quarry is a 15-year-old boy in a blouson style leather jacket with the sleeves rolled up – oddly he does look quite cool.
Like a Billy Connolly in reverse, Currie has gone from comedian to rock star, but it convinces when he performs. This isn’t shtick, these are not funny songs: they are proper. The drums are seismic. The guitar is greasy, dirty and utterly metallic, like a bicycle chain dragged across wet gravel.
Rhinos are the sort of Northern Irish band who will black-jack you in a back alley, and it’s only when you lie there bleeding that you notice the clown shoes. Later on Currie will insist on the crowd doing 'Rhino Horns', your standard devil horns adhered to the bridge of the nose.
When Crockett flips him the bird instead, Currie leaps into the crowd and forces him to do it. The boy complies, in no position to say no (Currie is a good foot taller than him), and the singer twirls him around the room like Anthea Redfern (a reference, incidentally, that Crockett has no chance at all of getting).
Oh Yeah’s swimming pool acoustics are inescapable throughout the set, despite the manful efforts of John McGurgan on the sound-desk, and Rhinos bounce from wall to wall like a squash-ball, leaving little black smudges with every impact. But this is smut rock, so the echoes somehow seem fitting.
'Motorhead meets the Carpenters' is Curries own description of the band. Bands never know why they’re good or when they’re good – they can never see themselves live. But there might be something to what he says: the warty gristle of Motorhead draped over the nifty pop classicism of the Carpenters does bear a passing resemblance to Rhino’s rock noise.
During 'Super' there is a problem with Totten’s mic. They don’t, however, have any problem filling time, the pair trading one-liners like a pair of Catskills pros. There is no joking when the tune starts up again – this is properly hard rock, rounder and heavier than the two-person set up would indicate.
The effect laden vocal interplay adds further weight, shape and colour to the sound – there is a lot going on here. The vocals are necessarily indistinct but the sound is tightly meshed and together. Rhinos are quite the unit, indivisible, like a hard rockin’ Paraclete.
Closer 'Strip' is a denuded Black Sabbath (with Currie assaying a peculiar Fred Schneider from the B52s impression during the intro) and normal screaming has been resumed. The kick-drum has travelled up my body like a baby kangaroo and is now hammering on my chest like it wants in.
The heat coming off the duo is intense, and Currie shakes sweat off him like a dog drying itself. I had my doubts – I’ve seen enough comedy two-pieces in my time. Rhinos, though, are the real deal: dank, smelly, hairy, hot and howling. This ain’t no funning around.
Visit the Oh Yeah Music Centre website for information on forthcoming events.