The Medicine Dolls: [The Band You Need To See]


Waking up from a good gig is hard work.

The first thing to deal with is the wool in your mouth, the indelicate gunk that’s apparently sealed your mouth and eyes shut – as if your body knows that waking up is not advisable and has unsuccessfully moved to prevent the bad decision. But, the noon-time sunlight has already rooted you out, so you enter the land of the living anyway. It’s the slight pang of guilt that’s gotten you – or at least that’s what always gets me – the fact that you’ve slept through another perfectly good morning due to the raucous night had till 3 am.

Next thing to deal with is that same light – it hits you when you open your eyes and you realise that, yes, you have apparently made it home in one piece – though you may not remember just exactly how.

Then there’s the slight dizziness, the still aching body, the dirty clothes from the night before which all come together to cement the definition of this morning: hungover. Very much so. But, was it worth it? Hell yeah. Cuz last night, you saw one of the best things you’d ever seen; one of the gigs that you know is gonna stick with you for a while. Cuz it reminded you what music is about.

That’s what seeing The Medicine Dolls live was like. See, they’re a band that gets it. They get what it’s all about.

Frontman Greg Allan takes to the stage with an animalistic prowess, demanding attention by the mere fact of his existence. Exuding energy in all directions, as if his tentacular hair were the source of an artistic electricity, the dude commands the room like a Glam-Punk Jesus, wielding his guitar like a weapon in defense of all the shit the weird kids hoped they’d see when they were finally old enough to get into clubs like the one the band would be blowing up tonight.

Tonight the mainstream dries up.

Alt-culture takes to the stage and pushes the thermostat up to its peak – threatening to blow its gauges, flood every available orifice, as every person in the room sets their sites on a single goal – making this night one to remember.

As ever-ready, ever-epic drummer Anro Femurs bashes out his part with precise strokes and bassist Bex Nicholas (Arabella) gives me all the feminist energy I could ever need, the band plays on with a power that deconstructs the boundaries of the space. The trio creates an interactive system reminiscent of all the shots of punk and post-punk gigs we millennial revivalists wish we could’ve been in in the 70’s and 80’s. Dead Kennedys, The Sex Pistols, Black Flag, The Slits live. Performers jumping on and off stage – into the crowd – drinks flowing, energy flashing in all directions. A concept we thought was bygone – revived in a small, dark room in Cape Town.

Guys. Punk /Post-punk is alive and well. Bands like these prove it.

So, have a listen to The Medicine Dolls’ new single – “Excuse Me Misbehaviour” – below:

Seriously, you gotta check these guys out. Like a really good friend of mine declared on said the hungover morning after: “It’ll change your brain.”

The Medicine Dolls On Tour

The Medicine Dolls’ frontman Greg Allan is the most rock ‘n’ roll person I’ve ever met. Black Labels in hand, we propped up the bar for a bit before the first show of the debut tour, chatting about betrayal, drugs, selling EPs to eat and the price of beer in Cape Town. Greg looks like a lost member of The Cure and, ever fashion-conscious, his look is incomplete without a teased black halo of hair and a lacy white garter wrapped around his black-leather-clad thigh.

Since The Anti-Retro Vinyls split up, he’s moved to the Mother City and refashioned The Nasty Narcotics as The Medicine Dolls. They’ll be touring SA until 4 December and I suggest you see them, because they’re very good, and because the money they make at the door pays for their accommodation.

Their Loose Change EP was promising with its throwbacks to 70s British punk and hard rock, but the show itself met and exceeded expectations with ripping feedback and post-punk grunge. The little teenage-punk inside me was over the moon. The show was a little like what I imagine it must have been like in those first 100 Club gigs in 1976: raw, sweaty and joyful. The crowd danced and sang, clutching each other and also occasionally Greg, jumping on an off stage. There was even a three-man mosh. Abidingly clear is that Greg Allan’s raw talent in both music and performance shapes and directs the show and their sound.

The Medicine Dolls have what every garage band wish they had: a charismatic frontman, drummer Anro Femurs is a human metronome with a wicked sense of humour and the bassist is a beautiful woman. Much like The Clash’s origin story, Bex Nicholas couldn’t play bass when she joined. Greg made sure she could keep time and taught her, like Mick Jones teaching Paul Simonon. Or so Greg says. Every story of his has a hint of fantasy.

The set was a mix of new tracks off the Loose Change EP and other odds and ends, including a cover of The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand“. “Girls and Poison” was met with particular appreciation from the crowd, though I was looking forward to more of Bex’s vocal work. One of the best things about punk is that it marries industrial soundscapes with occasional tenderness, and Greg and Bex pull that off effortlessly.

The Medicine Dolls don’t sound like anyone else on the SA music scene right now and that’s not an accident. They recall influences like The Sex Pistols, The Clash and New York Dolls when the current styles are preppy and up-beat. “Everyone is doing the Two Door Cinema club thing but what we do goes way back,” Greg explains. “Scenes change, the bubble pops.” Post-punk is not dead.

You can catch them in Durban on 26 November, Pietermaritzburg on 29 November, Vryheid on 30 November, Joburg on 2 December, Pretoria on 3 December and they’re finishing off the tour in Edenvale on 4 December.