Harry Howard and the NDE, The Holy Soul and The Nice Folk in Sydney

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Harry Howard and The NDE at The Facory Floor.    Lyndal Irons photo

Many years ago when Sydney was full of thriving, original music venues, Friday night for me was always a combination of either playing gigs or checking out new bands.

There was never a shortage. I grabbed my copy of "On the Street" on the Wednesday, eased into my chair and sat there with my red pen. After reading the odd review, I would scrawl and circle names of bands to see in the “What’s On.”

Every now then I would get to the Lansdowne, Evening Star, Hopetoun and many others and be happy with just finding a new band. Well, times change. Nothing remains the same. Seeing a new band is a rare night out these days.

On an emotional roller coaster with the Rolling Stones in Sydney

rolling-stones-sydneyHard to pick when I first heard the Stones. They've always been around, the songs, like a family member, those classic ‘60s hits: “Ruby Tuesday”, “Paint it Black”, “Get Off My Cloud”, “Mother’s Little Helper” and so on.

I knew heaps of Stones songs growing up. “Get your Ya Yas” out was popular at parties in Brisbane in the ‘70s. Flogged, it was. “Midnight Rambler” goes right alongside some drunken maniacs lurching around in a Brisbane backyard dancing the Pre Vomit Shake.

"You heard about the Boston" THUMP !

Radio Birdman in Adelaide

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Ho to the Gov, where the food is great, the Coopers flows and Tuesday is legendary Ukelele night. I love the Gov. Great venue. And ho, back we go to the 1970s… hmm.
 
Does the spectacle always win in the end? Is the naming of the legend so important? You’d like to think not. You’d like to think that people wouldn’t be so fickle. 
 
You’d be wrong, of course.
 
To paraphrase H.L. Mencken (I know you have all his books) ‘Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the people.’
 
A while back I wrote about The (British) Beat on this very stage. They played very well, worked hard. But long gone was the feral desperation of the Beat’s first releases -  and they came across rather like a cabaret act. Good fun, certainly, but not essential, not inspiring. If you’d never heard of them before, and you were told afterwards how important the Beat had been at a time and a place … you probably wouldn’t have believed it.
 
Of course, the crowd thought this version of the Beat were wonderful. Because you can’t argue with a spectacle, and a band would have to be pretty dire to beat down expectation. The (British) Beat were fun. But you can’t go back. To a certain extent, they were kinda covering their own songs. The intention, the point, the urgency, the personality-driven chemistries had all faded.
 
So, first money shot tonight: were The Main Band any good? 

Radio Birdman in Melbourne

emmy-manning-wide2Emmy Etie photo

The Corner Hotel in Melbourne oozes rock, and the idea of being part of Radio Birdman, HITS and Penny Ikinger shows over two nights was worth the flight from Sydney to Rock Mecca.

I choose to be in Sydney for the Rowland S Howard tribute show Pop Crimes on the Saturday before so I missed Birdman’s Manning Bar gig.

Sitting at the airport, fuelling my thirst of adventure and drinking my Coopers while reading social media, I noticed that my Facebook feed was inflamed with reports on how well Birdman played the night before in Brisbane. Comment was made that it was so powerful and melodic.

Pop Crimes: The Songs of Rowland S. Howard in Adelaide

pop-crimesFrom the spectacle of the Rolling Stones the previous night, I awaken somewhat seedy and blasted. It’s been a huge week, dealing with our Beasts of Bourbon documentary, taking note of Stoneswatch, seeing the Stones on a stage half a soccer pitch away and now… Rowland, who would have been 55 the previous day (AKA Stonesday here in Adelaide).

Ho to the Wheatsheaf Hotel on a borderline suffocating hot day, where Alison Lea’s photographs of young Rowland (the infamous late 1980 Adelaide tour, where scrawny Nick Cave painted a skull and tentacles on his chest, performed topless with the paint running to buggery and beyond.) If you’ve seen the cover of the Nick the Stripper 12”, that’s Alison’s photo. If you need more information go here.

There were two sets, the first being These Immortal Souls, and the second devoted to Rowland’s solo work. It wasn’t the line-up for the Melbourne shows; Hugo Race wasn’t there, nor was his sister Angela, nor Ed Kuepper. 

I haven’t been so profoundly moved all year. Partly because, after interviewing him on many occasions and brought him down to Adelaide for a few gigs, I knew Rowland reasonably well. Which meant that seeing these songs being performed by his friends had me rather teary. It was painful to watch, confronting, nasty even; more poignantly, his words are now far more loaded…

The Rolling Stones in Adelaide

stones-adelaideVoula Williamson photo

For the last two weeks, Stones fever, ably abetted by the broadsheet newspaper, has hit Adelaide.

Not for everyone, of course, mostly fogeys. Of which I am one.

In the days running up to the gig, Stoneswatchers staked out their hotel, their rehearsal ‘room’ (disused Glenside Mental Hospital, not that there’s any shortage of clientele, just that funds are a bit short apparently). 

Blood Bank Benefit show with the Lime Spiders and guests

Ripley Hood fronting the Lime SpidersRipley Hood stands in for Mick Blood in the Lime Spiders.       Steve Whelan photo

Ten bands. One bill. Despite being run (a.) in what is, these days, a notoriously taciturn live music town as Sydney and (b.) in direct competition with some obscure code of football’s grand final, it made sense.

Blood Bank was one of four benefit shows in as many cities to assist Lime Spiders vocalist Mick Blood, rendered unable to work after an altercation a few months ago in a pub in his newly adopted home town of Newcastle. Mick suffered a brain injury and is on the mend but it’s going to be slow progress on a long road.

Bob Dylan in Sydney

dylanI often put forward the argument about his Bobness that if any new artist produced a run of albums with the depth and quality of "Time Out Of Mind" in 1997 until "The Tempest" in 2013, we would hail them as a lyrical genius, the likes of which we'd not heard since Leonard Cohen.

We would be in wonder of this songwriter who draws Americano from his depth of styles, whether it be through darkened Southern blues, Western swing, folk ballads, rockabilly or Irish balladering.

We'd note the remarkable gravel in the vocals akin to Tom Waits and Shane Mc Gowan, and the way they descend to a whisper, the aural equivalent of the oldest oak tree, all weathered and timbered.

But it's Dylan. No singer/songwriter compares, and there is no other career like his.

The Wayback Machine aka Hoodoo Gurus live in Sydney

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Steven Danno photo


The thing with nostalgia is that it never gets old. Like sand through an hourglass, reunions of storied bands are an inevitability. Some are great, some barely tolerable.

The verdict is in on the return to duty by three versions of the Hoodoo Gurus, as a warm-up for an appearance at the Splendour In The Grass festival a few days later. This was a championship-style triumph rather than a chore.