Henry Rollins at the Empire, Belfast
The Empire, Belfast
21st August 2011
Not to sound like dribbling crazy fans in any way, but Henry Rollins is The Man - in fact, he invented the very concept of “The Man” just so he could be it, and judging by the packed out Empire for his spoken word appearance, we’re not the only ones who think so.
In full-on storytelling mode, he starts off as expected with the tale of the recent release of the West Memphis 3, a cause he has devoted a lot of time, effort and money to over the past 17years. It’s clear that as well as being a man of many words he is a man of action and won’t shy away from a struggle, especially if it’s in the name of what he believes is right. As he says himself, “If you stay on something hard enough, you can make some change,” and in this case it’s clearly paid off.
We are kept on the edge of our seats with tales of rat-infested temples in India, monks in Tibet, visiting north Korean dictator Kim Il Sung’s corpse in it’s glass crypt, and hanging out with snake catching tribesmen. Its like the script of the Indiana Jones films rather than real life, but that is the life of Henry Rollins, and to say there is never a dull moment is a glaring understatement. When he chats about hanging out with Simpsons creator Matt Groening at a Captain Beefheart exhibition, and being dared to scare the life out of Dennis Hopper, you feel a bit like you’re in on the joke, even though it happened years ago and you weren’t even there. When he mentions hanging out with rock music’s elite, or Hollywood stars, it’s never just name dropping for the sake of it. He’s as humble as can be, despite being able to make even a mundane trip to a wallpaper store into a rib-tickling anecdote.
But it’s not just comedy. You leave having learnt something. You know a little bit more about life in other countries, about politics and religion, feeling motivated to do more and read more, and just BE more. You can tell as he travels he takes the time to learn about where he goes, even spending the night before the gig just walking about Belfast to get a feel for it. “I think we’ll be all right”, Henry muses about the species we call homo sapiens, “People like you and me are on the watch”. Then he describes our punk rock vegan offspring of the future, and we’re all laughing our heads off again, while secretly hoping if we do have kids they’ll live up to that!
His attitude to life is infectious - his defiant ability to say “Yes” to anything because, standing still and doing nothing just isn’t an option. He even takes it outside after the gig when he’s there chatting to his fans, posing for photos and carrying on his tales. It’s an on-the-street encore and we’re staying the bitter end.