hugo race - The I-94 Bar
Brilliant. Not my favourite Race record, but nonetheless, another of his albums I’ll be listening to over and over, year in and year out.
Why? Well, apart from anything else, this is one of the most commercially accessible LPs I’ve heard Hugo do. And I’m sure this is more or less by accident.
Heads up: Get your wallet out. Both of ‘em belong in your collection and should be playing on your battered lil machine right now. I’m going to give both FIVE BOTTLES, and that means…the review is irrelevant.
But you want your entertainment anyway, don’t you? The Voice and The X-Factor can only “discover” what fits a format. And that format is, for the most part, bereft of meaning. The jokey aspect of Eurovision Song doo-dah means that brilliance can sneak in, because the format is to “make a splash” as well as fit the format. Keays and Race load their music with meaning, relevance and immediacy.
Hugo Race makes a point
Adelaide's Wheatsheaf Hotel (aka the Wheaty) is one of those modernised, forgotten pubs with pricey but excellent wines and beers. Local families bring their kids and they run amuck.
There is a beer garden, but few people smoke (which I can’t understand). Coffee and hot chocolates are available at the bar. There are no pokies and no ATM (you withdraw at the bar). They have exhibitions of art, photography, hairdressing and whisky tasting.
The back room (where bands play) is essentially a newish tin shed with a ceiling, lights, formica tables and period chairs, and everyone squashes in somehow.
Multi-instrumentalist and hypnotic crooner, Hugo Race, returns home to Australia in June and July, fresh from an intense wave of European solo headline concerts in support of his latest EP "Ophans".
The five-city tour will include dates in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Tasmania.
Race delivers a unique take on experimental blues, folk and dark-edge, dragging inspiration from artists the likes of Neil Young, Velvet Underground and Wilco.
His EP is credcited to Hugo Race Fatalists, the collaboration between Race and Italian instrumental gurus, Sacri Cuori , and is said to create "ground-breaking, intense sonic soundscapes that merge folk, experimentalism, electronica and rock".
Once upon a time I went to The Big Day Out. I can’t remember which, but the events themselves I always thought were a nuisance which one was obliged to endure in order to see the two or maybe three bands you actually went to
Anyway, it had dawned on me that “my generation” was utterly reviled by the one coming up. Which is understandable, of course, as every generation has to gain independence and identity, and the quickest route is to revile the old farts. ’Cause of course, we no nuffink.
Now that I am a card-carrying Old Fart who Shouts At Clouds and Doesn’t Like the Look of Those Teenagers, I have a blessed distance to view the rich landscape of modern music [Barman: insert vomit noisehere]. In 1987 Steve Albini made a passing comment: “Pointless teenage thrash bands”.
This was the weekend that Hugo Race and Kim Salmon played separate shows in Adelaide on successive nights. At first glance, there might seem little to compare the two. But there’s plenty.
Both guitarists, both swimming against the stream writing songs which are, essentially, written as much for the ages as us. Both Hugo and Kim are touring professionals who love playing live, giving to a crowd.
Arguably, both also make the kind of music which seems to endlessly slip between the cracks in a modern world so devoted to novelty (rather than a trend) and the appearance of substance or significance, as opposed to any depth or meaning.
Kim Salmon - Mandy Tzaras photo
Dateline: Adelaide. Hugo Race (pictured right) and Michelangelo Russo arrived at the venue shortly after 4pm, just in time for a swift soundcheck, have a couple of beers, smoke a couple of rollies and a cigar (respectively) while Michael Plater was on.
Quizzed later about their 4am wake-up to drive from St Kilda to Adelaide’s West End, Hugo denied it being a hard trip. "Warsaw to Paris, that’s a hard drive" … you knew he meant non-stop.
And it’s not the first time Hugo’s done this drive; this time he was captivated by the patterns of light, the yellows of the rapeseed, a stand of blasted trees waving in the wind… Charlie Marshall does this kind of thing. Not so much old school as a rediscovery of the essence of travel.
From the first sentence in "Road Series", you’re in Hugo’s world, his past, present and by implication, future.
“Road Series” is one of the main reasons that a poor bloke like me can’t ever get history quite right: we have the dates, the events, the chronology lodged and squared away. But people like Hugo carry the emotive rationale, the anti-rationale, and the … moving finger writes inevitability of their lives locked inside them.
I suppose we could all say we have that, but few, very very few of us could write it out and get it right, express it right, show us who warn’t there just how it wuz.
We instantly inhabit Hugo’s world because, first and foremost when you’re reading a memoir, the writer is telling their story. Second, “Road Series” possesses a vividness, a real-in-colour sensation to it which so many memoirs of the punk and musical new wave period completely miss in their hurry to put down their rivals, tell juicy anecdotes and, basically, gossip.
And I’ll just say this, for an autobiographical account of a significant St Kildan musician from this rather bitchy, backstabbing period, there is an astonishing absence of tittle-tattle, knife-wielding and general spite. Hugo is remarkably matter-of-fact about things, and (again, from page one) the maelstrom continues like that whirling Tasmanian devil from the Warner Brothers cartoons.
Seems that the long EP is the way to go. A CD single was always a bit naff, a CD EP was okay but seemed a little wasteful in terms of time; a full CD these days is the equivalent of a double vinyl LP back in the mists of time.
Speaking of going back, a decent 7” was a work of art, whether it be by the Clash or the Psycho Surgeons, the Cramps or The News (I’ll never forget the first and only time I’ve held a single-sided single in my hands - utterdelight and incomprehension all at once). An EP was harder to achieve but was still a work of art.
Dig it: “The Spirit” is a five star album and Hugo Race and the True Spirit will be touring it through Europe, from West to East, from October 2015 onwards. There will be a second record from the recording sessions (not featured here): “False Idols” will appear in October. When you get the vinyl of “True Spirit” there’s a CD included; hell, that’s a bargain as far as I’m concerned.
Brace yourselves, Europeans. Buy tickets - and Hugo’s back catalogue. You’re in for a treat. No gig will be the same: “Each time we play one of our songs the interpretation changes because of the sound - the sound is always morphing, it’s always coming through us and we’re changing all the time and open to the fact that we’re channeling music as much as we’re playing it. Performance blurs those lines…”, Hugo explains.
It seems every Australian city had its underground "punch-above-its-weight" scene in the ‘90s. Hell, all of Charlie Marshall’s Melbourne band members here had serious form. That said, just because there’s a track record doesn’t mean there’s always gonna be magic. There might be concrete. Or salad instead.
In Marshall’s case, it’s magic. If you recall Harem Scarem in the ‘80s, well alright. But this ain’t that, and now ain’t then. If you’re a Nick Cave or Kim Salmon completist, you’ll snaffle this anyway (the presence of Warren Ellis and Jim White of The Dirty Three should send warning bells, and surely Brian Henry Hooper needs no introduction.) Same applies if you’re investigating Hugo Race ditto (Bryan Colechin of The True Spirit) and Darren Seltmann of The Avalanches.