Fuck you Sydney, the Currie was hot in Adelaide

cherie wideJoanne Bennett photo

I missed Babes Are Wolves but caught The Babes (two men, two women), who did a good strong metallish rock set - both bands had people dancing and paying attention despite only using about a quarter of the stage. No mean feat. Both are Adelaide acts and I can see I’ll have to investigate properly.

One of the most enduring memories I will carry away with me from tonight’s show is that this 5’1” thin scrap of a person, Cherie Currie, demonstrated sensibility, strength and love without any of the usual r’n’r proclamatory chest-beating. She still looks gorgeous (her genes should be investigated and the rights procured) with her boyish figure and sexy smirk …

But that’s the last time you’ll see me use the term “sex”. It’s essential to mention, of course, but whereas most of us, at 56, have begun to look like Santa (and the ladies begin to resemble the Family Guy dog’s lost teenage love.. I don’t know if you know the episode, Brian turns up at a shack where some ghastly bovine opens the door and…) Cherie looks good in a way most of us would kill to look like when we were 32.

cherie adl3Cherie Currie
+ Babes are Wolves + The Babes
The Gov, Adelaide 
May 31, 2016
Mandy Tsaras photos

Now, the Barman’s review "Cherie bombs as Sydney stays home" caused some slight comment in Adelaide, mostly along the lines of: “Fucking Sydney, they’re jaded and they’re spoilt and they have no idea, this is an actual living legend, doesn’t he get that, doesn’t the prick know how to have fun without getting bladdered, what a sod, if that prick shows his down face here…’’.

There were one or two more such comments, all accompanied with a rain of passionate spit (Christ, the things I endure for you rotten bastards) but each and every comment came from several musicians (one of whom is a big fan of The I-94 Bar) although I think I can see the problems here. They’re not unique to Sydney.

First, Sydney is, as The Barman says, spoiled. But not just his generation, who saw the most extraordinary of the most extraordinary and watched Sydney rock’n’roll alter, shift gears and plow ahead. In 1980, when the shockwave of the new was gripping Sydney and spreading into hungry ears and souls, the population was about 3.2 million. And Sydney was, musically speaking, then reasonably significant. These days it seems to be 5.2 million or somesuch, and musically speaking Sydney is in the musical doldrums. What Sydneysiders want to do about that is up to them.

Right now, despite hordes of decent bands ignoring Adelaide (you’ll see a couple of reasons why below), Adelaide currently has the most fruitful and extraordinarily varied music scene it has ever had, and that’s no exaggeration, yet the local newspaper has no idea about this. The biggest street mag went Internet yonks ago (which is a gun in the mouth if you ask me) while the only printed actual physical street press here, B-Side, vanishes from venues all around town in the blink of an eye.

Frankly, many of The Barman’s, and later generations, would not have liked Cherie Currie’s first band (The Runaways) much anyway (as record sales indicated), so why get excited now? I must’ve been 11 or 12 when I discovered the band - they’d had no notable airplay, I’d just seen a clip for “Cherry Bomb” on the box and launched out to get the thing by hook or by crook (unlike the master criminal Bob Short, I paid for my copy. LP and cassette: I’ve still got the cassettes, but the LPs got “lost” or “recycled” during that penance for being born; "share house living").

At the time, I recognised that the band’s music was a tad clunky. Partly because the outfit was straining in different directions. But some of the songs were, I thought, bloody marvellous. And my opinion hasn’t altered much. The Runaways’ third LP (minus Cherie) I thought was damn fine, too, but went in a more hard rock direction; later records are pretty good but you know, the writing is on the wall.

Continuing the Sydney is poo theme (and “this is what you get for being Sydney”), Sydney is still the centrepiece of the country, but the music scenes seem confined to the occasional group of old-stagers (sorry, I mean old fogeys) getting together for too many beers and a bleary reminisce over missed chances, lost love and assorted woe (such as “why isn’t that once-brilliant legendary band so utterly crap?”).

These gatherings of course occur, mostly on a weekend because we all know that these old buggers work for a living (as indeed you must in Sydney, and it had better be a well-paying job otherwise you’ll be visiting the Salvos every weekend before you return to your storage shed to spruce up for Monday’s dead-end job (fill in the blank here…) and small groups of the rejected who suddenly realise that music is The Way, it’s that or meth or smack - but that group is very small and no-one cares anymore unless you’re on a TV talent show. Sorry, I got carried away but Sydney is so easy to laugh at.

Second, the ticket price of $65 or so was about right for a legend, and that legend’s first Australian tour, which Cherie Currie is; however, the potential market of determined fans for Cherie is far smaller than the organisers realised. This means that, either they needed to price downwards or take a hit.

I remember being Robert Dunstan’s guest to see the Sensational Alex Harvey Band a couple of years ago (the Sensational Alex Harvey having passed many years ago) and they had a house of about 150 on a weeknight with tickets well over $50… now, that’s never gonna work: had the tickets been about $30, we realised, they probably would have had double if not more people through the door. And that, I think, was the problem with Cherie in Sydney. At the time, SAHB had released a new disc, but lack of airplay meant that, when the news of the tour breaks, either a confused expression as an old man or young tosser tries to recall or give a fuck, or an athletic bound towards the internet, simultaneously whipping out the battered plastic. The latter is what happened with Prince’s gigs earlier this year; the sound of wallets opening all at the same time was mistaken for a terrorist incident (our fighter jet was scrambled, and our tank deployed).

Third, expectation. This isn’t The Runaways. Cherie Currie, as most musical performers, would be perfectly justified in touring with her own stuff (she has two discs out, ‘Reverie’, which she worked on with Kim Fowley, and her approaching him took a huge amount of guts to do, and ‘Midnight Music in London’, which is a live set similar to what we hear here), which is very un-Runaways-ish.

And, if you’d ever heard the R-word band live (or seen them, I didn’t, they never quite got to Australia), you’ll know that they were travelling along several tramlines in conflict and confluence. In other words, the power and nature of the band, quite apart from the emotions prickling like angry hackles within the friendships, was running in different directions. From this, and several other areas, the band became a far greater creature than the individuals. And that’s what makes a lot of bands great, or memorable, initially. I’m sure you can think of a couple like that.

Had the Runaways been able to overcome their problems they could, I think, have been that generation’s Aerosmith, or Guns’n’Roses. Certainly they could play brilliantly, and with power and conviction. The fact that they were women in one of the most feudal and chauvinist industries around, and that they still made things happen for themselves, is wonderful as well as legendary. Their music, and their playing, raised the bar and opened floodgates of possibility for men as well as women.

In Currie’s recent interview with Robert Dunstan in B-Side she emphasises that she wished Lita Ford and Jackie Fox could have been involved in the recent Runaways movie … but quite clearly there were obstacles which could not have been overcome. Unlike some once-legendary bands I won’t name, there’s no way a Runaways ‘reunion’ will happen: it can’t, since Sandy West died some considerable time ago. And this band seem to be sticklers for sticking to their personal guns. Lesser bands would just get another drummer, another bass player, another guitarist, tour and do increasingly lame versions to increasingly saddened fans and deluded drunks who missed out the first time round.

Fourth… people forget … this is an LA band. Quite a lot of LA bands don’t translate into the wider world, in the same way that so many Sydney bands don’t translate into the wider world (ditto Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth…). The wider world takes a quick glance, thinks the band have buried themselves in some odd niche, and puft, the band are dismissed.

It’s only weird outfits which don’t entirely fit in to the LA world which get out, if you think about it, like Babes in Toyland, Buns’n’Noses, the Red Hot Silly Peppers … you know? AC/DC were hardly typical, were they? The Easybeats? Ditto The Runaways.

I think Currie’s down-to-earth nature on stage was the most impressive thing about her (yes, alright, apart from that naughty smirk, and That Bottom) (I won’t mention her nice bottom again either, but I am bound to report that it is much, much nicer than Kylie’s). So many performers seem to let the adulation go to their head, ignore the clutching hands and the howls for recognition and simply act the ROK STARR. For example, instead of ignoring or putting down one particularly persistent chap in a flamboyantly fringed jacket, she was gracious every time, and even took a moment onstage to sign the CD he was thrusting at her.

I’d better not use the word “thrust” again, either. Phew. It’s hot in here, isn’t it?

Currie had simply ambled on, took her time with everything, gave everyone near the front of the stage a crack at singing the favourite song’s refrains, particularly the women who were delighted to see her in person. When you think about it, what Cherie’s been through, we’re not only lucky to see her at all (I’m sure we know people with half her early life problems who’ve snuffed their lives out like a puffball in a forgotten fart) but frankly, the woman’s courage and steely determination (fuck, she carves sculptures out of ice with a damn chainsaw. I couldn’t do it. I mean, one lapse in concentration and goodbye left hand…) is hidden behind a deceptively relaxed onstage demeanour. Cherie’s poise and manner is infectious, strong and rather thrilling. You’re drawn in to her, and you really can’t take your eyes off her (despite the posing chaps with their ‘axes’).

And this is another distracting difference. For us here in Australia, posing with yer guitar… it’s kinda retrograde and er… somewhat irrelevant. I think I mentioned in a review of the Systemaddicts recently, it’s one thing to be completely into it (as Liam is), and another to be self-consciously posing… As I say, I think in LA, rock and roll has never really moved away from 1974 in many ways. Hell, think back to Decline of Western Civilisation II: The Mettull Yeers where the most interesting and intelligent interviews are with Aerosmith, Alice Cooper and (I was utterly astounded to discover) Ozzy Osborne. The rest (including Kiss) seemed lost in some weird fantasy universe (Paul Stanley was particularly prattish, I recall). I don’t think the LA rock landscape has changed that much: sure there’s underground stuff, but what gets attention is the sort of bands Kelly Bundy would dance for.

cherie adl wide

Cherie understands and accepts that the R-word band is and was, a significant outfit, and that those expectations will dominate, rather than those for her own more recent work. Unlike The Buzzcocks, only half the set are from the old R-word band and, driven by a perfectly reasonable sentiment a two-song medley appears of Lady Grinning Soul and Rebel Rebel (you should see the pics of the young Cherie dressed as Bowie, if Bowie is the reason her life changing around, she’s perfectly entitled to do a couple of covers).

Now, I’m going to say a couple of things in disagreement with The Barman. I no way would I compare them to any of the rock’n’roll bands here ‘in Australia’s pubs in the mid-80s’, except ones I probably would never see. I can’t think of a single current Sydney outfit that would have boosted what Cherie was doing, because, one, it’s an LA thing, and two, this is what Cherie has chosen to go out with. You know, take it or leave it. Comparing bands is a tricky business; Lita Ford is and was a far better guitarist than the chap in Cherie’s band, but that’s hardly a fair comparison; it’s not the R-word band, and if Lita hadda wanted to play with Cherie badly enough, I’m sure she would’ve put up her hand.

Hell, I saw Leonard Cohen in ‘the mid-80s’, in 1985. The first set his voice wasn’t really there, nor his heart and soul, and the second set he was. But the striking thing was the awful band he’d brought with him. We’d expected panache, style, power; what we got looked and sounded like a bar band from Dumptruck, Ohio. Expectation again, you know? hey, does anyone remember Iggy Pop’s first tour of Australia, back in ’83, being blown offstage by that “pub band” night after night? Iggy was great, wonderful, what a god and so on, but boy, he really knew how to pick a bunch of okelly-dokelly old-stagers old-before-we’re 30 band members. Hell, even if he weren’t being blown offstage every night, the gigs would have fallen well and truly beneath expectations (particularly if you wanted to see the Stooges instead of the NYC Committee for making Noo Rock.

Look, I’m going to expand on this. Expectation, you know? much has been made about the recent Hard Ons thing. I gather they’re all lovely blokes, and I’d never deny that they were influential. But back in the day, I saw the Hard Ons on no less than three occasions (once in Melbourne, twice in Adders) and each time I was bored to buggery and beyond with no protection. I’m not alone in this; in fact, when one musician friend of mine dubbed them "The Soft Ones" I was in complete agreement. So don’t give me that Binding Pub Contract bollocks. It’s easy to have a blind eye and I’m sure I can be accused of that too. It’s what I call the Risk of The Dickless.

cherie adlA musician friend of mine was, poor chap, a life-long sucker for Eric Clapton (I have never seen my friend’s band, either, and never will). One year Clappo toured and wombled onstage stoned off his chump, and my friend spent quite some time yelling abuse at Mr Clapton. It is to my friend’s credit that he instantly saw the king without his underpants and decried a dickless man for a dickless man. I gather that the security took rather a while to remove him and he probably annoyed a lot of people, however a dickless man is a dickless man and must be described as such. It’s only fair.

Speaking of dickless men, then, The Runaways were from another age and performed and played so well they made dickless men realise that they were, indeed, dickless, and that their inadequacy in the y-fronts department was now on display.

So, we loved Cherie Currie’s gig. We had no expectation really, knew it couldn’t be those extraordinary (and oddly awkward) two studio LPs the R-word band put out when I was about 12. She wasn’t some thrashing, screaming rawk lunatic like Adelaide’s Dick Dale or the Pro-Tool’s Pete Howlett (who was front and centre, big smile lighting up the crowd), but the R-word band were never like that anyways. Currie's voice has a particular burr and whirr built into it, and she handles it damn well. And she knew the crowd were there for a variety of reasons, and she performed naturally, powerfully without (as I said earlier) chest beating … sure her more recent music is not the same, nor as strong, and certainly more commercial. But it’s pretty good, all the same, and - here’s the thing - it’s her presence as a performer which brings everything up.

So, was it a brilliant night out? No, of course not, but really, when old farts winkle themselves away from the couch, the needles, the vodka and so forth to blink once more in the bright lights, they usually do a fairly shoddy job of it. What was the name of that band Alice Cooper supported last year? When I saw the Sensational Alex Harvey Band a few years ago, and they were good, but nowhere near brilliant or outstanding, and the personal touch, the interaction with the crowd who clearly loved them ($60+ to go out on a wet Tuesday night, you gotta love the band) was completely absent. Cherie’s personality, her unfeigned intimacy with the crowd, and her grace as expectation boiled away in front of her like a wall of ovens, was frankly rather wonderful. Oh yes, Cherie Currie pulled more people than Sydney on a pissing-down Tuesday night, pulled more people than SAHB on a similar occasion, and Adelaide got an encore.

Currie spoke about Suzi Quatro singing on a song which she’d written about Quatro, and I recall seeing Quatro on her last but one tour, and thinking, ‘well, that was a lot of fun’, but realising as I walked out that, critically, if I had the chance, I wouldn’t want to see Suzi Q every week. That’s a big thing with me; if a touring band’s really enjoyable, I kinda fantasise about them playing locally on a regular basis. Not just following them around the country (as one record shop and label owner did when REM toured), but, as a local outfit you’d make the effort to see, rain or heatwave.

I could live with seeing Cherie Currie play around town more often. Expectation has a lot to answer for: while I know a few people had a milder but similar reaction to The Barman, the vast majority of the crowd had a damn good time, mostly remarkably sober (why mention this? Well, if you lived in Adelaide, would you want to be sober?).

I’m sure many of them, including me, made up for that when we got home, put their new Cherie CDs on and fell asleep drunk, to wake with a start at 5.30 to realise they’ve had two hours sleep and have to get up to go to work for that important contract meeting at 9am.

Tags: live, adelaide, runaways, cherie currie, babes are wolves, the babes

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I-94 Bar