Dave Graney & The Mistly in Adelaide
Wheatsheaf Hotel, Thebarton, Australia, August 31 & September 1, 2013
Parallel worlds are, I am convinced, real places. You just have to find a doorway.
After seeing Dave Graney perform last night and this afternoon, I remember what life used to be like in the day when I first beheld DG, his preposterous pompdour topping a much smaller head, in turn precariously balanced above a three-piece red velvet suit which was insanely tight on his tiny, skinny frame. To say the man had charisma and oozed self-confident talent was an understatement akin to saying that Michael Hutchence might've had sex once or twice.
Back in that day, if a bottle-shop had absinthe, or tequila, you had to ask for it and, if you passed muster, the character on the other side of the counter (bottle-o blokes were always characters back then) would retrieve the bottle from its secret crevice.
These days, such potions are readily available; however, I found myself realising there was a niche market.
Essence of Dave.
The same sort of event ensues, you walk into the bottle-o, the jittery chap behind the counter gives you a calculating look and you, rather nervously, blurt out your penchant.
Looking at you as if you'd just confessed to buggering a stoat, the jittery chap turns, bends and twiddles with a safe. Opening the door, he uses a pair of tongs to capture the scurrying little bottle and stuff it in a secure bag.
Same as to get in to see DG tonight, $24.
Once home, you draw the shades, lock the doors and windows, turn off the computer, mobile and flip the landline off its cradle.
In one gulp, no ritual, you tear off the top of the now-struggling little bottle and, as it squeals in protest, you gulp it down.
And enter Daveland.
I cannot comment on what Daveland feels like, because I have never gone there (it's not invite-only, but it is exclusive). I can only tell you of a few symptoms of what happens when you live there.
See, this is what I think: Daveland is not like looking at the world through a prism or prismy shades. If we were to gulp the contents of the little bottle (sour, very sweet, aromatic and strangely salty, since you ask) you would realise, with a sort of jolt of clarity, that you have become a sort of prismatic lightning rod, casting to and fro, looking for kinship with other - often hidden - lighting bolts. A Daverod, if you will.
The Wheaty is on the West side of Adelaide, but far away enough from the ENTCENT to be reasonably civilised. Talking with Tammy and Michelle, both EPL fans who've 'won a hotel in a raffle'. Upon astonished enquiry, this means 'a night in a hotel', a mix-up presumably aided by drinking from 3pm...
For once the door opens early and we hurry in to our 'usual table', only realising as we're parking our bums that ... bugger, it's the band's table. We hide our heads in embarrassment.
I'll assume you know the term 'a Dave Graney' is a synonym for a r'n'r lifer, no parole, no 'get out of music free' card.
Dave's been busy being literary over the last year thanks to his last book '1001 Australian Nights', and is apparently working on another album in between gigs and recording with Harry Howard and the NDE. Clare Moore has been working with the NDE, the Ukeladies and the Dames (whose imminent cd was mixed by Barry Adamson).
Recently Universal music (presently not held in high esteem I am told, by irate record emporiums who can't get no satisfaction) have released Dave's three Mercury lps, with a bonus disc of other songs (only two previously released) in a natty matching box. Given that these long out-of-print lps would cause most fans to cheerfully shelling out a twenty or more for each, and you would expect that such a box would be damn fine value at, say, fifty.
So Universal throw it out at twenty, without any significant promotion that I can see, and use it as a device to promote their thing called GETMUSIC, which sounds like a punishment.
Given that each of the three lps is a classic (one winning Dave the tenth ARIA for best male vocal) and that the extras are addictive (I mean, Theme from The Quim Hunters! makes the box worth buying for the song title alone) it is no small wonder that the band seem a bit miffed. Me, I'd put up posters of the box cover all over each capital city saying, 'Do Not Buy This CD, It Is Too Cheap!' and 'I Deserve Better', but then that's me.
So. There are two sets each night. The band walk on in what I think of as cool everyday wear, except Dave, who tonight, uhm, well, it's what you'd expect a meat packer to wear to the golf club on Sunday arvo. I'll leave it there, suffice it to say Dave probably thinks he's wearing something nondescript, but trust me, even wearing trews and a t-shirt the man would look out-of-place at a family gathering.
'Who's that?' '
Oh, uh, that's um, Dave...'
Followed by a contemplative, slightly disbelieving silence.
Anyway. The first set, like the second, does not focus on any one particular lp. Each set shows the band to be a constantly evolving creature; to take one example, every single version of Mount Gambier Night I've heard has produced a different reaction in me, because they're playing it differently. The first time I heard it, it was new and I had to push aside a manly tear. Tonight I feel like an initiate. Extraordinary. The next day's version has me tearing up again, but it's a different thing.
Also, the band alter the songs every time they play. And they're tight, tight, tight, so in-sync with each other it's like telepathy. Not in a spooky way, it's just ... wow.
Dave delivers an endless fund of Dave introductions ('I like to create a chasm in the middle of a set', he explains (often)) as he stuns the audience into stupefied silence with his blather, or explaining that the 'Sheriff of Hell' was a parallel universe thing where then PM John Howard turned up in Hell and they ... pinned the badge on the sad little chap. He didn't tell the story of how our former PM got to Hell, but I can reveal he was dreaming he was playing cricket at Lords and was chasing a cricket ball when it went down a rabbit hole...
Dave again regales us with the story of belittling Paul Kelly in public and then encountering him backstage afterwards ... but before this he belittles the man in the most spectacular fashion. If only young Paul had been here to hear the audience cackle.
By way of self-belittlement Dave introduced Midnight Cats by explaining that the last time they played it in Adelaide, a guy came up and told him how dreadful it was. So ... they played it for effect. (It's not that bad. It's just ridiculous, that's all.)
The first night's highlight was not wanting them to end, but they had to. You're Just Too Hip, Baby and I'm In the Future Now find the band without a place to easily get off the stage, so we bang our glasses on the tables and the band grin and 'return', ending with a corking, spadangly version of Prince's Time (sung by Stu Thomas), and the sublime My Schtick Weighs a Ton, performed in glorious TechniDave or Daverod... no, you need to see this to believe it.
Both nights we wonder at the utter stupidity of Mercury Records, who 'didn't hear a hit' with Feelin Kinda Sporty, one of those Australian songs which define a certain kind of Australian male lubricosity. Dave's mock-aggro little dances are incisive and perfect. You gotta be there of course, but if you don't wanna get in the car, I can't help you, I really can't.
Junk Time (one of Clare's, now on The Dames' imminent cd) is witty, pointed and scorching (and you've gotta wonder why Clare's solo cd never took off). Some of the songs Dave turned over haven't been heard (at least here) in years. Your Masters Must Be Pleased With You, Sheriff of Hell, Twixt This World and the Next, You Wanna Be Loved, Humble Servant, the Brother Who Lived. More recent songs like Let's Kill God Again and I'm in the Future Now.
Yes, he mentions the imminent, embarrassing election. It's the elephant squatting in the corner of the room after scoffing too many chilli plantains, really. Everyone's fed up with it, everyone hates what's happened, we're all powerless. To help us out, Dave makes our tummies ache from laughter and our brains fizzy. The second night Dave incidentally tells us about interviewing Jello Biafra in Canberra (although it rather sounded a bit like Dave was the tree bent over in the wind) when the Biafran began to hector the tent embassy (or something) crowd 'for about an hour' about how they had to get out there and vote if they wanted to change things.
When the Biafran had regained his seat, Dave explained that everybody has to vote in Australia. 'You have compulsory voting here?', exploded Jello, provoking another lengthy diatribe.
What a saint. Dave, I mean. There we all were, getting so wound up and infuriated at our helplessness in the face of this damned election that until Dave came along we were about to burn down parliament.
Or what passes for parliament these day. Tent embassy (or something).
Where was I? Ah.
Sure Dave's superb favourites I'm Gonna Release Your Soul. The Stars, Baby, The Stars, You Wanna Be Loved, Rock and Roll Is Where I Hide and I'm Not the Guy... but it's not the hits you come for like you do with some bands. You come for the banter, the performance, the extraordinary air of the unexpected, and, the illicit thrill.
Illicit thrill? Dave Graney?
Yep. Because we're seeing a man on top of his game. His onstage demeanor has developed, branched out, and he's engaging and captivating. You can't take your eyes off him (I only did so to gather such gems for you as: Stu Perera's Rickenbacker looks like he's left it in the shed for a few weeks but he plays it like a diva-kinda guy, and that when Clare goes into that place where the rhythm consumes her it's a gas, man, her eyes closed as she's hitting those things she hits with such precision and power) and it's beginning to make me wonder.
I mean, Dave is a great show-man guitarist. Stu P is the hero of the hour and noisily gets on with the job in his corner, Stu T could be some sorta bass god but is content to do the heavy, huge, complex job and yet ... I find myself wondering what if ...
... what if Dave were to get out front in the open again. Not so much to revisit old glories like the M**d**s - half the fun there was to see this tiny little guy staring out over our heads surrounded by big caveman-in-a-factory noise - while he sang like a sniper. The thing in common with the M**d**s circa 1985/6 and Dave G and the Mistly now is that there's still that extraordinary rough power in the band, only it's deliberately muted at the moment you get this ... ah, hell, musically Dave Graney and the Mistly are like rubbing yourself with sandpaper just because you can. It's the whole spectacle-experience.
No-one can predict the Davester's next move. But I'd love to see him out front and personal again. Cause right now he can do it better than ever, and God help us, as the last song they do on Sunday attests, We Need A Champion.
Dave Graney is unlike any other Australian artist. He is the Daverod. I could say we have our champion and leave it at that, but that's not true. Right now this band could slay on the big stages. 'All they need' is a bit of intelligence from a big record company.
I've been told that such concepts are a reality, but it seems like finding proof is a bit like the likelihood that you can do liposuction on yourself with no adverse side-effects.
We're so lucky to be able to get to see Dave Graney and his band so often. I can tell my cousin's kids, and step-grandkids, 'This guy was brilliant and I saw him every chance I got.'
Beats the hell out of;
'Him? Oh, yeah. I s'pose I really should have got out more as I got older. Never mind. Probably didn't miss much.'
All too soon the ugly lights come up and we look at each other in sad disbelief as we realise, not for the first time, that the world is not in Daveglo after all.
But it should be, dammit.