Feature Opinion

In Review: Francois Van Coke en Vriende at Sun Arena

On the surface Francios Van Coke en Vriende looks to be an event nine months in the making. Upon closer inspection you’ll find that it’s closer to a double-decade-long project.

So how the hell do you condense an anthology worth of anecdotes and career milestones into a simple gig review?

You don’t.

But I’m a kamikaze like that. And so it goes.

The sunny beer garden starts filling up much earlier than I anticipate as hundreds of attendees, dutifully dressed in FVC-branded attire, stream into the general vicinity of the Sun Arena.

The spectacle itself starts bang on time, opening with an all-out flexing of Amp Events’ production muscles. Visuals, lights and birthday boy Sheldon Yoko behind the raised drum kit combine on the intro to ‘Moontlik Nooit’. The rest of Die Gevaar (Richard Onraet, Dolf Willemse and Jedd Kossew) follow. Francois trails. He’s a barrel of nerves as his voice wavers mid-verse.

As he ventures to the front to high-five outstretched palms he finds his stride, casually cruising into ‘My Hart’, dutifully appeasing the already fully-formed moshpit.

Die Gevaar look exactly that in their tailored suits, framed by the intense visuals and light direction. From the onset it’s clear that this is a production unlike any rock show we’re going to see for a long while.

Francois breaks to welcome his first friend Laudo Liebenberg and he looks ecstatic to see him. Laudo’s reverberating vocals (the best out of that whole Bellville clan as far as I’m concerned) serve the mellow ‘Die Skip’ seamlessly before they premier their latest collab single ‘Spaar My Asseblief’ – Jacaranda’s new #1. Obvs.

Die Heuwels Fantasties get the first intense crowd greeting as they throwback to their debut with ‘Sonrotse’. And just like that I’m back at varsity cruising the streets of Stellies in Inggs’ City Golf. Robertson papsak in hand. Pooling twenty cent pieces to buy hot dog rolls and a block of cheese at the Pick ‘n’ Pay on a Saturday morning. It’s overwhelming and nostalgic AF.

There are very few Afrikaans debut albums released over the last 10 years that can top Die Heuwels’ self-titled one. Ek sweer.

Coenie De Villiers appears at the piano placed stage left and suddenly the lights are flipped, save for a few chosen spotlights. Francois joins for a goose bump rendition of Johannes Kerkorrel’s haunting ‘Hillbrow’. Coenie’s voice is rich and textured, steeped in history and emotion, exactly like Kerkorrel’s original. It’s a fitting rendition of one of the best Afrikaans songs ever written and it’s a moment I’ll take with me to my grave.

Afterward it’s a Van Coke Kartel reunion as Wynand Myburgh, Jedd Kossew and Jason Oosthuizen appear for a two-track take-me-back to the good ol’ days but wait – is that Karen Zoid? Decibel levels skyrocket to ear-piercing as she steps onto stage for the first time and I’m already crying. Karen’s second-verse smash and harmonising over Jedd’s solo on ‘Tot Die Son Uitkom’ is perfect. The arena is now a rock ‘n’ roll church.

They strip things down with ‘Dit Raak Beter’ setting the scene perfectly for acoustic guitar-yielding Majozi. Staple Beatles cover ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ gives everyone onstage the chance to engage in some serious bromance, clapping hands on backs and arms around shoulders. The arena is now a love fest. Smartphone screens light up the place during Majozi’s subsequent performance of his beloved ‘Darling’.

Francois is now back, breaking to intro Arno Carstens, explaining how he looked up to him when he was a kid. Bucket list dreams are made of these. They do a near-perfect rendition of ‘Ek Weet Nie’ off Francois’ debut solo album after which Arno blesses us with the canonical ‘Blue Eyes’.

Tyd vir rapper nommer een. Early B cruises onto stage with a healthy dose of swag for the punk-rooted ‘Altyd Lief Vir Jou’. It’s the first time I’ve heard the rapper tackle a track with a darker undertone but he predictably destroys it.

They throw in an unexpected cover of Beastie Boys ‘Fight For Your Right’, allowing Early B the chance to characteristically let loose and the guy looks like a kid in a candy store. “All of the talent, none of the ego,” Johnny de Ridder will tell me later and I cannot (and dare not) argue. Early B is the future.

En dan rapper nommer twee. Jack Parow sidesteps onto stage for party starters ‘Dans Dans Dans’ and ‘Hard Partytjie Hou’ and his feature culminates in a synchronised stage dive with Francois that goes off without a hitch thank godt.

Afterward Johnny takes Coenie’s vacant seat at the piano and we’re finally treated to the best track off Fokofpolisiekar’s “Selfmedikasie”. The lump in my throat rises in sync with each “komma” cried and you can basically stick a fork in me.

Now that we’ve swapped out Die Gevaar with the full Fokof line-up the hits are rolling thick and fast. We’re desperately clinging to every lyric because the end is near. And it’s all a bit surreal, especially watching them play ‘Ek Skyn Heilig’ with Liam Lynch crouched next to Snake’s kit, clutching his faithful Fuji.

Enter Karen for act ‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’. I run to position myself stage right to listen to the new age ballad in peace and it’s a perfectly choreographed vocal dance as they feed expertly off each other.

The encore is predictably the anthemic single ‘Ek Lewe, Ek Belowe’ featuring Die Heuwels Fantasties after which the entire clan crash back onto the stage for a final bow and photo op. It’s momentous, it’s moving but perhaps most importantly, it’s now history.

You have to be some kind of special to have that many people worship you unconditionally – both onstage and off.

Long live King Van Coke. Long may he reign.

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