ed blue mountains

The Exploding Universe of Ed Kuepper
+ DC Cross
Blue Mountains Theatre, Springwood, NSW
Saturday, 2 September 2023 

Photos: Vic Zubakin / Look Sharp Photography

Ed Kuepper is a deep thinker.I imagine he puts a lot of time into considering his next detour, which is usually unpredictable and highly creative.

Ed annually tours with a re-invention of something from his past. Tonight, he’ll show off  this year’s model - and add another chapter to his almost five-decade-long career.

The post lockdown tours of 2021- 22 with The Dirty Three’s Jim White were notable for re-invention. Those shows were dark and adventurous, exploring some obscure tracks and well as better-known Laughing Clowns material. The performances were all about atmosphere, and full of light and shade.

Prior to that, we had The Aints! tours, with Ed re-staking his claim to his roots in proto-punk, while giving a nod to Crazy Horse. 

 the exploding universe

The Exploding Universe of Ed Kuepper.

The Saints (with his mate in crime, the late Chris Bailey) recorded three of the most significant Australian records of all time, and at the core of The Aints! was a teenager from Brisbane who bought “Raw Power” from the World Record Club back in 1974.

We’ve also other sides of Ed Kuepper over the years, with subtle and more technically nuanced solo acoustic gigs that showcased the man’s skilful tunings  and capo techniques. One of the albums that he toured, “Second Winter”, was a master class in guitar virtuosity.

Tonight, Ed Kuepper is performing in Springwood at what locals have nicknamed “the Blue Mountains’  Opera House”. It’s a full house (600 capacity) and it should not be surprising. Kuepper has a huge fanbase in the mountains.  

The area is a hub for creatives and there are pockets of musicians in its towns. In fact, the Katoomba area might be the last bastion of original music in Greater Sydney, with several small venues liming its streets.  The Blue Mountains Civic Centre is renowned for quality sound, and is possibly one of the best venues in NSW     

First on tonight was D, C Cross who I saw for years when he was part of the punkish noisy combo, Gerling: Tonight is quite a departure. It’s Darren’s “I don’t give a fuck” attitude and his natural, sardonic wit that wins over what would have been a difficult audience to impress. 

He has been performing what calls “primitive acoustic music” since 2019, and yes, it is like The Stooges taking on Leo Kottke. Darren is a natural wit who’s clearly been influenced by Lenny Bruce, and although his guitar playing was, at times going through the motions, he is nevertheless a terrific performer.

Ed casually walks on stage with a side-eye glance to acknowledge the audience as he arranges his pedals and straps on a 12-string Stratocaster.  There’s some quick eye contact with the members of his band before Alister Spence plays the opening  piano chords that summon up “King of Vice”.

The sound is clinically perfect as the notes and harmony fill the venue   Like much of Ed Kuepper’s music, it’s the stunning arrangement that weaves and winds along highways, tracking through fields, hills and valleys to form a soundscape that is his trademark. Only then, does Ed brings his vocal into the song,    

eamon blue mountains

The band is blistering; Peter Oxley and Mark Dawson are locked in as tight as Superglue stuck between two fingers. Alastair Spence is masterful on keys. Eamon Dilworth on trumpet brings echoes of Miles Davis’s “Sketches in Spain” set to a solid backbeat. It rocks. “Not A Soul Around” pumps like a locomotive – just as it did when it came out in the late 1980s. 

Looking back, Ed’s “Electrical Storm” album was a stroke of  brilliance.  The inspirational, creative outfit that was Laughing Clowns was a sacred holy cow to many kids of the inner city back in the ‘80s. “Electrical Storm” was a sharp change.

After that record,  Ed Kuepper became a tougher touring act, chalking up 150 gigs a year…from Sydney Cove Tavern, Caringbah and Dee Why to the Great Northern in Bryon Bay. From Canberra to Geelong, Frankston to Adelaide and back again.

The Kuepper music brand was powerful, melodic and creative – it sneered at being a mainstream Aussie pub rock act. It took the suburban audience by the scruff of its neck and declared, ‘You’re here to listen some great music’. 

alastair blue mountains

Tonight’s version of “Electrical Storm” brings the set to a gentler place. This was the lead song on Ed’s debut solo album that, along with “Honey Steel’s Gold”, has been remastered and re-released.  It’s a brilliant song, the raggedy guitar behind it, bopping and floating like a cork in an ocean lined by distant, dark clouds. 

The version on the album - recorded all those years ago, with Louis Tillet on keys, for just $1200 - had a rawer, tougher edge ,with the piano floating in. Live, the song is fleshed out by Dilworth’s trumpet. None of its raw drama is  lost, however, and the trumpet adds drama and atmosphere - like the sounds of soldiers returning from the battlefield.

“Honey Steel’s Gold” is another highlight in Ed’s discography and also a featured album tonight. The song starts with an almost Laughing Clowns-like discordance at a constant, mechanical pace.  The Spaghetti Western lead guitar morphs with the trumpet to evoke a vision of distant voices. Alistair Spences adds a sprinkling of notes and the audience is taken to another place. Ed’s vocal enters and works as another instrument that brings another layer to the song. Clever.

“The Way You Make Me Feel” is one of Ed’s best-known songs and his wry wit inspires the crowd to hold their lit phones aloft like cigarette lighters for a stadium band sing-along. Even the coolest of the cool join in.

singalong with edSingalong with Ed.

A stunning “Also Sprach The King of Eurodisco” ends the set. After a thunderous demand for an encore and with curfew drawing near, the band comes back on for an explosive, eight-minute version of “Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You” that goes past the cut-off time.

We’ve witnessed almost two hours of the finest playing by any band in the country. The Exploding Universe is as good as any of his previous ones, maybe better than most in its sophistication and amazing interplay.  

Ed is in top form and is one of the few artists in Australia that can draw on his past and pull out another new chapter. He never sits still, as like a master painter, he enters a new phase. No wonder his audience returns, year after year.