TO HELL 'N' BACK - Grong Grong (Memorandum/Aberrant)
Here's the deal: I saw the legendary car crash that is Flipper live six months ago and I still don't know if they were masterfully great or contrived rubbish. Perhaps parts of both - and therein lies the appeal for most people. On the evidence of this album, there was certainly nothing calculated about Grong Grong but the effect was similar.
Hailing from Adelaide, a city in a southern Australian rust/wine belt that seems to revel in its own weirdness, they were as uncommercial as music got in the mid '80s. With just one self-titled, half studio/half live LP issued on Australian imprint Aberrant and Jello Biafra's Alernative Tentacles, they shared Flipper's ability (and that of gigantic fuck-ups worldwide, it must be said) to both attract and repel.
Ol' Jello saw them on the first Dead Kennedys tour Down Under and naturally fell in love. They were one of the Aussie bands he wrote about in a celebrated piece for Maximum Rock and Roll that many of those mentioned have dined off ever since, just like the British punks used to revel in Lester's blathering after he junketed in the UK. In Grong Grong's case, the fuss was deserved.
The stuff sounds deceptively simple, at times very sloppy. Dave Taskas' rolling notes of bass arm wrestle Charlie Tolnay's discordant and repeated guitar shards. Drummer George Klestinis alternately sits on a 4/4 beat or sticks a red hot poker up the bassist and guitarist's arse, while "vocalist" Michael Parkas gives birth into a microphone or yelps on sax.
The whole lurching hearse grinds and quivers through compositions like "Louie The Fly", a barely recognisable cover of the MC5's "Looking At You" and "Grong Grong". (It's a town in country New South Wales whose name an acid-bent Parkas snatched up as he was passing through on a lysergic road trip.) When each song shudders to a stop, you're left none the wiser as to what each was about. It's more fun to guess, I suppose.
Of course such weirdness was never going to win the hearts and minds of the masses let alone radio programmers, and the lifestyle choices that accompanied Grong Grong were always courting danger. Parkas overdosed on smack the day after a Public Image Limited support in his Adelaide hometown and remained on life support for nine months before coming out of a coma. Years of re-learning how to function physically lay ahead. The original LP was compiled while he was in God's waiting room and the band has only just reformed (2009) to mark its re-issue.
I never thought Grong Grong's music was as good as this the first time around. Tollnay's subsequent band King Snake Roost did nothing for me and there was a bit of rejection through association. Re-hearing Grong Grong in the context of this package however, there's an intensity and symmetry that makes passages hypnotic, and even the odd hook - buried under sludge, of course.
If you're wavering be advised that the bonuses are substantial. There's a 17-track DVD of Super 8 footage of the band from rehearsals and live shows that's a stunner. Danger Coolidge's excellent Unbelievably Bad magazine profile of Grong Grong is reprised in the booklet. - The Barman
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