5th July, 2012

Having grown up in rural Queanbeyan there weren’t too many options for live music. Raiders nighclub certainly had its moments however for the best in local and international alternative artists there was only one place to be in the 90s – ANU Bar, Canberra. Canberra was often overlooked for the biggest bands however ANU was considered an essential stopover for any self-respecting alt rocker.

For those yet to witness a gig at ANU Bar it is a pretty basic venue, by day it’s a bar/cafeteria with some pool table, by night the bar becomes a sweatbox filled with a horde of screaming fans.

Over the years there were a core group of us who witnessed some amazing gigs in a venue which belied its size and fed us a steady diet of quality live music. Before each gig we had a little ritual which involved pre drinks at our place, scabbing a lift in off someone’s parents, down a bottle of something in the bushes out front then a few more inside at the bar. By the time the main act came on you would be well toasted and ready for action. I saw too many bands to remember them all but here is what I do remember…

Fresh from releasing their breakthrough album Aenima TOOL visited Australia. In those days ANU maybe could fit 2,000 people however as we waited out the front it was pretty clear tonight would be a tight squeeze. Rumour had it they oversold the gig by about 1,000 so we made sure we were in line early to ensure we actually got in. Maynard entered the stage in head to toe blue body paint, TOOL boxers and fluro spots down his spine to the opening chords of “Third Eye”. The mosh pit was so full all we could do was fall from one side to the other. It doesn’t happen too often but I had to get out of this mess of bodies, steam and sweat. Somehow I climbed up onto the exit sign clutching a gaping hole in the roof. From here I witnessed TOOL in all their glory before Maynard decided to hide behind a sheet play most of their greatest album and completely lay waste to the packed crowd.

Before one of their members became a fundamentalist and had to be kidnapped or THAT dubstep album Korn were at the forefront of the metal/rap invasion. Korn hit ANU as part of the “Life is Peachy” tour. Jonathan Davis came onstage wrapped in Christmas lights to a stage dominated by a giant inflated penis. After 90 minutes of Nu metal we were playing some pool when we noticed a pretty drunk Fieldy (Korn bassist) downing Coronas, playing pool and signing autographs.

Other moments which stand out include: Bloodhound Gang guitarist singing “Firestarter” while walking out through the crowd on punters heads, a young silverchair roadtesting material for the “Freakshow” album, Henry Rollins walking out in nothing but a pair of shorts, wrapping his mike lead around his arm, belting out 90mins of punk then walking off dripping wet, Blink 182 play “M&Ms” and Jim Rose Circus play “chainsaw football”.

However the most famous ANU bar moment was one which sadly I missed – Nirvana 1992. When Nevermind broke Nirvana just happened to be in Australia for Big Day Out. The night they played ANU the venue was packed to the rafters with around 2,500 outside hungry for a piece of history. Some ingenious fans even hid in the roof of the toilets for 8 hours to sneak in. When offering vastly inflated prices to those who had a ticket failed they smashed their way in. It was during the last few songs when those outside who were bashing on the window succeeded in smashing it in and the already packed venue swelled to even more dangerous levels. To this day the remaining members of Nirvana remember that night fondly. In the words of Krist Novoselic: “we played in Canberra at a school and it was nuts … it was nuts.”