Confidence Man: Live In Moscow, One Night Only

WHAT’S it like being on stage in Putin’s Russia in nothing but your underpants? Do you get sent to Siberian gulags for that? Do they even have gulags in Siberia anymore?

“We just kinda did the show exactly as we would do it at home,” says Confidence Man singer Janet Planet (not her real name). For those not familiar with how they do it at home, a Confidence Man show almost invariably involves Janet’s counterpart Sugar Bones (also not his real name) stripping down to his jocks and flailing his wiry frame across the stage.

“Well, Sugar was a little bit worried about how he would be received,” she adds, laughing.

But the heaving Thursday night crowd at Pluton – a former factory turned “cultural centre” near Moscow’s famed Museum of Vodka – were into it. Really into it, even though the vast majority of the crowd had never heard them before.

“I think there was maybe two girls in the front who knew ‘Bubblegum’ and ‘Boyfriend’,” says Janet, “but I’m pretty sure that’s kinda as far as it went. I think that they were telling us that there’s a different kind of streaming service in Russia.”

She’s referring to Yandex.Music, which as of early 2017 was Russia’s second largest streaming service behind Apple Music with 250,000 subscribers. There are 144-million people living in Russia.

“I’m not even sure if we’re available in Russia,” she adds. “[But] the audience there is in the know of good music and supporting good music being brought over. So I think they would have been down for anything.”

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“We just kinda got drunk with him and he was like, ‘I’m gonna bring you guys to Russia next year.’ And we were like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s never gonna happen.’ And then it actually happened.”

THE emergence of Confidence Man was one of 2017’s most pleasant (and polarising) stories. But the fact they came into this world fully formed should come as no surprise given their pedigree. Comprising members of The Belligerents, Moses Gunn Collective and The Jungle Giants, Confidence Man took shape in a Melbourne sharehouse where the four Brisbane-reared friends were living at the time.

“We never kind of intended it to be anything. It was just a fun thing that we were doing together and that’s why, I suppose, some of the lyrics are so stupid and silly,” explains Janet. “Then we were like, ‘Actually, maybe we sound pretty good.’ And we started scheduling a few nights a week that we would spend on it.”

They picked pseudonyms – in addition to Janet and Sugar there’s Reggie Goodchild and Clarence McGuffie – to completely separate Confidence Man from their other outfits, but also to live out more exaggerated versions of themselves on stage. So where does the line between Janet and her real-life alter-ego begin and end?

“In a little way, we’re pretty similar. We’re both kind of pretty aggressive – not in a mean way, but powerful. I’d say Janet’s a little bit more violent maybe than me. A little bit more domineering than me.”

First single ‘Boyfriend (Repeat)’ was the song that kicked things off. Within a few weeks of it going online they were snapped up by Heavenly Recordings, the legendary London-based label that discovered Doves, Manic Street Preachers, Saint Etienne, and most recently Temples.

The cat was truly out of the bag when footage of their semi-synchronised dance moves and unique ability to coerce an unsuspecting crowd into a foetal position at Golden Plains made its way into news feeds en masse.
When triple j captured an almost carbon copy of that performance at Splendour In The Grass, the response was huge. More than 1.3-million views, and hundreds of divisive comments, mainly focussed on their perceived inability to play instruments, Janet’s deadpan delivery and, yep, those silly lyrics.

“I think if you’re creating good art, I think it should be divisive,” Janet reflects. “I don’t think that it should just be okay. So initially we were a little bit taken aback. But after thinking about it, I was like, ‘Well, I’d rather be a band where people either love you or hate you because that means you’re doing something right.’ And I think that was the whole purpose of us as well.

“You know, we’re not a serious band … We take music seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.”

It was at the UK’s Great Escape festival (they also played Glastonbury within six months of forming) that planted the seed for their debut Russian performance. A tour booker named Andre approached them after the show. Initially they were skeptical.

“We just kinda got drunk with him and he was like, ‘I’m gonna bring you guys to Russia next year.’ And we were like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s never gonna happen.’ And then it actually happened.”

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“You know, we’re not a serious band … We take music seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.”

THE road to Moscow wasn’t bump free, though. Confidence Man went on a bender with their label in London the night before and turned up to the airport, well, not exactly match fit.

“Clarence and I were vomiting all the way to the airport and we had to pull over like a bunch of different times,” Janet says, laughing. “We were pretty wrecked by the time we got there.”

Luckily, there were kittens waiting for them in the green room. Um, kittens?

“They had their own little room with a heater in it. So we were just having a free drink, popping in there, and then leaving them alone again. I think they were looking for someone to adopt them, actually. And I really wanted them, but they wouldn’t let me take them.”

“Clarence and I were vomiting all the way to the airport and we had to pull over like a bunch of different times.”

Kittens aside, the Russian gig experience wasn’t too distinct from an underground warehouse gig back home in Australia. Well, except for the sub-zero temperatures, cheap booze, $1 cigarette packs, and your average Muscovite’s “deep commitment” to fashion.

“I saw a bunch of girls wearing short skirts even though it was like negative 10,” Janet says.

“But probably one of the most interesting things that I got out of the trip was getting another perspective on … how it’s actually not as bad as it’s perceived to be in the west. So that was pretty interesting. All the young people are just exactly the same as us. That was probably the thing that all of us were so shocked by. We imagined it to be so backward and it really wasn’t.”

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