Starry tribute does SPJ justice
"Execution Days, A Celebration of the Life and Music of Spencer P. Jones"
The Escape Committee
+ Adalita, Penny Ikinger, Sly Faulkner, Phil Gionfrido, Digger & The Pussycats,
The Pink Tiles, Claire Birchall, James McCann, Jules Sheldon, Foggy Notion,
Henry Hugo, The Last Gasp Horns
The Tote, Collingwood, Melbourne
Saturday 9 April, 2022
Photos by Michael Barry
Before we start, a disclaimer: I am a close personal friend of Patrick Emery, the author of "Execution Days: The Life and Times of Spencer P. Jones” and organiser of this gig. So therefore all objectivity is likely to be thrown out the window.
Patrick and I first saw the Beasts of Bourbon in a relatively small venue, Le Rox, in the city of Adelaide in early 1992. After the first few bars of the opening song, "Chase the Dragon", singer Tex Perkins kicked over the mic stand, the band abruptly stopped playing and Tex stormed off the stage headed towards the mixing desk. We were standing roughly in that area as he came charging in our direction and I was genuinely in fear that he was about to wreak some savagery upon us as part of the collateral damage of castigating the sound guy.
In a GG Allin kind of moment the seas parted as Tex approached and then he tore strips of the poor sound guy in a tirade of expletives. He stomped back on stage and the band, non-plussed, non- questioning, restarted the song and subsequently played an incredible set.
A few short days later Patrick and I had both the good fortune and misfortune to see Nirvana play on their Australian tour. Good fortune in that Nirvana were a relatively short-lived band that had an incredible impact both at the time and on many generations to come which therefore made a good tale to tell the occasional young’un: “Yeah, I saw them live”.
Misfortune, however, in that the memories of the Beasts gig from a few nights prior were palpably fresh.
Admittedly Nirvana played on a bigger stage and Kurt had been under the weather, but I was left with a profound sense of disappointment. If this was the best band in the world what had I seen a few days before? The Beasts of Bourbon had better songs, better musicianship and infinitely greater charisma. In my mind it was clear that at that point in time in fact it was the Beasts who were the greatest band in the world.
Fast forward 30 years and now I live a pedestrian life in suburban Sydney, a city full of glam, glitz, nice scenery and wonderful geography yet relatively devoid of good quality pub rock. On the other hand, Patrick has gone on to forge a parallel career (he has a day job) as a prolific and respected music writer. In this time he has got to meet many members of the Beasts of Bourbon, interview them and get to know them on a personal level. It can be difficult meeting one’s heroes, often fraught with disappointment. But sometimes it turns out that they are greater human beings than could ever have been imagined. Spencer P. Jones was one of those.
His biography of Spencer is an incredibly well researched testament to a man who is nowhere near a household name yet whose influence runs deep and wide throughout the music industry, on a level perhaps matched by no other musician in this country.
But this is not a book review.
If you are even still reading this you must know of Spencer and hence my advice is to do yourself a favour: buy the book and read it.
So now to the gig.
Foggy Notion must have good parents. Or at least parents with good tastes in music. They are young and play a country and western influenced brand of rock ’n’ blues. They must have had nothing but great records playing in the background throughout their youth, and I suspect their parents didn’t play a lot of gangster rap while washing the dishes and making dinner. I challenge anyone to see this band and not walk away smiling: their sound is perfect and their enthusiasm infectious.
Jules Sheldon takes the mic for his guest spot.
Their version of "The Hate Inside" was brilliant, the perfect choice for this band, sung beautiful and sweet by Maxine. Why aren’t these guys megastars??
James McCann (“the new Lobby Loyde”) and his band followed. He has street cred with me given that he’s a fan of possibly the most underrated Australian band ever, The Lizard Train. His music is power chord-driven rock with a deep sense of melody. It veers into heavy pub rock, goes right to the edge then returns back into rhythm just at the right time. Again, superlative musicianship and great song writing.
A special mention to the bass player who is quite possibly the best of the “bass players who look like 1970’s professional squash players” that I have seen. I have had a bit to do with this crowd (the bass playing 70’s squash playing mob, trust me they’re a feisty bunch) and personally I think he is the best axeman of the lot.
Why aren’t these guys megastars??
And then came Digger and the Pussycats. To my shame I had not even heard of these guys yet after one song I was in awe. I know they’ve been around for many years but to the uninitiated you can’t help but think…why aren’t these guys megastars?? A tip to any future audience: don’t heckle them. They’re almost certainly wittier than you and also have speakers at their disposal. Get the upper hand and they’ll just launch into the next song.
Their take on "10 Wheels for Jesus" with a couple of guest vocalists was possibly the highlight of the night, although unfortunately (?) nobody (not even Patrick) took up their offer to get naked on stage.
Penny Ikinger with The Escape Committee.
The final act for the night were The Escape Committee. They performed as an ensemble with a revolving cast of guitarists, singers and horn players. The centrepiece throughout was the wonderful Helen Cattanach who should be a household name in this country let alone a megastar. At times there were roaring guitars, at others soulful ballads, crescendos of horns and a tinge of country and western. In many respects the eclectic mix of styles and characters reflected the life, times and music of the very man himself, Spencer, spanning many a diverse genre such as to be unclassifiable yet classy throughout.
It has been said that Robert Pollard from Guided by Voices has just the right level of fame in that he has a legion of devoted worshippers and has had enough success such that he has been able to play music for a living yet can walk down the street or catch a plane without punters staring at him or asking for a photo.
And it is to this end that I wish everyone who performed on the night at least that success.
Maybe being a megastar is not all that it is cracked up to be.
The vibe throughout the night was one of selflessness and joy. There was a genuine sense that all who played on the night were simply grateful to be able to pay homage to a man they considered to varying degrees to be a friend, mentor and/or inspiration.
For me, the night was summarised at the very end when I was waiting out the front for an Uber with Patrick and his wife Bettina. Andy Pussycat exited at roughly the same time, we had a brief chat and as I stepped into the Uber Andy said “Thanks for coming, nice to meet you”.
I’m sorry Andy (and to everyone who performed on the night) you got it slightly wrong: the pleasure and privilege was all mine.