los chicos toteLos Chicos at The Tote.

Schadenfreud is a German term that translates loosely to "watching Collingwood lose".

OK, maybe that’s too harsh: anti-Collingwood (that’s the Australian rules football team for those born above the Barassi Line in Australia, and any of the Bar’s overseas readers) sentiment is tied up with class-based bias, and a lingering resentment at the club’s rampant success back in the day. The modern Collingwood team is great to watch, and would have been a worth winner, had the battle-hardened Weagles not worn the Pies down.

The prospect of heading to The Tote, nestled in the edge of the old Collingwood flat, on a night of Magpie disappointment, was potentially worrying. In the end, the Pies fans were thin on the street, no doubt drowning sorrows in some other sporting bar.

Los Chicos

Money for Rope

James McCann and the New Vindictives
The Tote, Collingwood
Saturday, September 29, 2018

James McCann was a couple of songs into his set when we arrived, already working up a sweat, his band of New Vindictives on an inspired rock’n’roll journey that maybe Collingwood could have benefited from deep in the last quarter few hours earlier.

McCann is still on the punk rock trip he embarked on a couple of years ago, a deviation from the longer blues-based jams of the Dirty Skirt band, or the quasi-psychedelic madness of his Other Band. Tim Deane on rhythm guitar is an unsung legend of the Melbourne rock’n’roll scene. Stylish, talented, enigmatic, a perfect foil for McCann’s combustible rock riffs.

In addition to the material from McCann’s most recent record, there’s a couple of Spencer P Jones covers, "What Is Life" and "Trick Your Boat Wrong". Not for the first, nor the last time, there’s a moment of sadness when we contemplate the loss of Spencer. McCann finishes up with "I’m a Loser", a hand-around-your-throat, don’t-fuck-with-me track that never grows old.

I haven’t seen Money for Rope for a few years. The last time I reckon was a Cherry Bar gig a while back. We’d started at the Yarra Hotel in Abbotsford, then jumped on the bikes to ride to the city, arriving just in time to see their set. Then, as for other Money for Rope gigs I’ve seen over the years, I’d contemplated rhetorically before the set started "Are these guys as good as I remember from last time?" The answer then was a resounding "Yes".  But tonight was another level again.

Every song has an epic climax, wherever it starts. We’re reminded of Ground Components, a local band sorely missed these days. Money for Rope are captivating, mesmorising in fact. I can’t remember them having a keyboard player last time around, but maybe I wasn’t paying intention. Whatever.

This time we get a serious dose Doors-ish keyboard jams, as mainman Jules McKenzie thrashing his guitar and flailing about the stage like a man possessed by the amphetamine-laced spirit of 1968. The double-drummer thing works in a way that it doesn’t always: you get a solid backline (West Coast Eagles, anyone?), plus an occasional syncopated flourish that’s apparent, without being thrust in your face. Money for Rope are good. Very fucking good.

los chicos on a planeMad as cut snakes and on a plane: Los Chicos en route to Australia.

And then Los Chicos. I reckon this is the fourth, or maybe fifth time Los Chicos has ventured out to Australia, an always welcome symbol of the sub-cultural affinity between Australia and Spain. Some years back a friend of mine was living in London and told us excitedly about this Spanish band he’d seen who’d "blown The Bellrays off the stage".

When Los Chicos made their first trip to Australia, I reckon around 2012, it all made sense. These guys understand Australian rock’n’roll like the late art critic Robert Hughes understood Spanish painting. Rafa Sunen has a hat and couple of western boots full of charisma, and the (literally) twin guitarists are the ultimate fraternal rock partnership. The rhythm section is as tight as a fish’s back passage and the crowd is baying with excitement.

If Birdman had decided to trade grey skies and prickly egos in 1978 for the sun, siestas and healthy attitude of Spain, they might have ended up with a recorded product approaching Los Chicos’ new album, "By Medical Prescription". As it is, Los Chicos has produced an Iberian product 40 years later that is almost perfect homage to garage-punk-surf style (which is not to deny the album’s multi-dimensional qualities – more on them another time). In addition to the raft of newer original material,we also get Los Chicos’ backhanded autobiographical ethos, "You Sound Amazing But You Look Like Shit". Compared to the average stylish Spaniard, maybe Los Chicos don’t measure up. But on stage tonight they look as good as they sound.

James McCann returns to the stage later in the set, along with former Powder Monkeys and Bored! and now Powerline Sneaker guitarist John Nolan. The song is ‘The Rain Came’, a Spencer P Jones track written way back in 1990 (released on the ultra-rare World’s Got Everything In It EP in 1994), and reprised at Nolan’s instigation for Spencer’s 2010 Sobering Thoughts record. Nolan takes the first solo, McCann the second, and it’s a contrast in styles: Nolan is the punk rock dude, McCann the more country-blues guy.

McCann and Nolan retreat from the stage, Los Chicos drop back into their rock’n’roll gear, and we get the "Descent Into the Maelstrom"-meets-"1969" jam-medley. Rafa has the crowd in the palm of his hand, and rest of the band (save for the drummer) gets up close and personal with the crowd in the pit of the Tote. If Edgar Allen Poe could just see what’s happened with his short story, well he’d probably hit the bottle even harder.

A short interlude and McCann and Nolan return to the stage for "Kick Out the Jams" (what is Spanish for motherfucker, anyway? ED: Puta Madre) Brother Wayne, and the late brothers Michael, Rob and Fred - and the live one, Dennis - would surely approve. Then we get Roy Head and the Traits' "Treat Her Right", an ebbing and flowing of rock’n’roll intensity and all is good in the world.

Unless you’re a Collingwood supporter of course – in which case you must be used to the disappointment.

2- Grace Emily Hotel, Adelaide 
3 – Lansdowne Hotel, Sydney 
4 - Rad Bar, Wollongong
5 - Manning Bar, Sydney *
6 - Manning Bar, Sydney *
* with Radio Birdman