Comedy: Henry Rollins Hammersmith Apollo London oo999

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The Independent Culture
HENRY ROLLINS left his audience tonight with a quote from Iggy Pop about having to work to keep up your hate. That the former Punk frontman turned spoken word artist did not exit to one of his own numerous quotes on the subject (for example: "When you hate someone, hate them until it hurts" or "To hate is to show you care...") was a telling summation of the evening. The Rollins diet of hate, physical and mental discipline and social change has itself remained constant throughout a quarter of a century and expressed via numerous books and albums. Under a second term of his nemesis George Bush Jr, his appetite is still healthy, but what he served up did not get the juices flowing.

Inevitably, it is with Bush that Rollins kicks off his two and a half hour set. There is always a great expectancy when an American gets their teeth into their leader, a hope for a new insight. Unfortunately, Rollins's riff is Bush-by-numbers, or, more appositely, by letters. Yes Bush has trouble public speaking, yes, he makes a lot of gaffes and yes, that recent remark about "spacial entrepreneurs" was a hoot, but where's the beef? Eloquent, highly articulate, and an avid campaigner Rollins has the capacity to undermine the leader of the free world on the issues, but he barely hints at that here.

If Rollins expects his devoted audiences to hate he presumably wants to give them ammunition. But tonight not only was the arsenal bare but there's a confusing case of friendly fire. With glee he tells of his recent morale-boosting trips to meet troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, involving frolics with Kuwaiti air traffic control and mocking the decor of Saddam's palace. Though vehemently anti-war, he tells us he made the trips because the young people out there are "confused, lonely, focused and determined." His words are at first glance contradictory and one wonders if his stance is; whether he likes it or not he is helping people do a better job as an occupying force.

Moreover, can we be implored to hate by a man who makes hay with stories of his Hollywood exploits? Rollins, whose film credits include Johnny Mnemonic and Lost Highway, spins a yarn about getting the part in the as yet unreleased comedy The Alibi, featuring Selma Blair and Steve Coogan. Apparently, he had his chums on the set cracking up when, shooting a scene in a real sex shop, he asked the owner if they sold a spray cream sex toy for the lactose-intolerant. This was supposed to be the Shock and Awe tour.

Though he still adopts a power stance as he tells his brisk stories, the highly toned performer looked far from packing verbal punches. Focused, humane, never boring and without self-destructive vices Rollins clearly has his personal strengths but his delivery has come down a few notches. His closing material about dealing with telephone salespeople was inspired, how he engages with them to the point of making them pity their own lives, but I couldn't help but think I wanted Rollins circa 1993 or a Bill Hicks, a George Carlin or more latterly a Doug Stanhope to deliver it. Maybe even an Iggy.