Saturday, October 10, 2009

PUNK ROCK NOSTALGIA-FEST '09
It wasn't official, but such an event, for all intents and purposes, existed this weekend just gone in ol' Melbourne town. In one single evening, at three separate venues, played thus: The Hard-Ons (playing a 25th-anniversary bonanza) at the Corner Hotel; UK Subs (with a 65-year-old Charlie Harper up front, no less!) at a ridiculously under-promoted show at the Arthouse (and I really dig their early records and actually would've opted for their show if there wasn't such heavy competition); and old-school Adelaide noiseniks Grong Grong at the Tote. I opted for the latter. There was also Japan's Melt Banana at the Forum Theatre, which I'd bought pre-paid tickets for a month ago, not knowing the competition at the time, but like I said to my friend whom I piked out on to see GG instead: Melt Banana - they're OK 'n' all, but on an emotional level they mean zip to me. If I miss 'em, big deal. GG were a band firmly ingrained in my mind as a band who meant a whole lot in the Lang household growing up - more so for my brother than myself - but nevertheless, they remain a defining band for a certain era. They hadn't toured for 25 years, and I was not going to miss it. It's called nostalgia.

For foreigners and other folks w/ strange accents, GG may register a blip in the memory for two things: they released a posthumous LP on Alternative Tentacles in the mid '80s (they supported the Dead Kennedys - a big-deal tour back in the day - on their Adelaide show back in '83 and apparently flipped Jello's brain), and guitarist Charlie Tolnay, one of the unsung guitar heroes of Australian post-punk, went on to form King Snake Roost in the latter half of the '80s, released a few discs on AmRep for their troubles and even toured the US at one point. I've got a bunch of those KSR rekkids buried under piles of shit somewhere in the "music room", and once I'm finished w/ typing out this nonsense, I'm gonna give 'em a spin. Here's hoping they still move the loins.

I can tells ya, back in, say, '86-'89, GG were all the rage in North Balwyn, or at least a certain pocket of that dull-beyond-words burg. That pocket was my brother's bedroom. He flogged it day and night. Grong Grong, that is. Whether I cared for the band or not - and I did - I knew their sole recording back to front. Their sound was an ultra-grimey mix of Stooges psychosis, low-end Birthday Party rumble, scratchy, jazz-tinged, note-twisting guitar squall - part Gang of Four and part Greg Ginn - and the kind of anti-social aura perfected by Flipper in the day. The only band from the era I can truly compare them to and not feel like a total numbnut scrounging for comparisons would be Scratch Acid. That's just a ballpark, not a note-for-note facsimile by any means. It was the '80s, man.

So... 1983 became 1984 and things went pear-shaped. Singer Michael Farkas OD'd and went into a 9-month coma, never fully recovering from his folly, and the band fell apart. The outfit known as Grong Grong simply existed in people's memories as, well, one of those bands. Brilliant, lost to time, you had to be there. I wasn't. But I'm glad I took the time second go 'round.

The Tote was about 2/3rds full - lots of competition there, folks - and what a leathery old mob we were. The diehards took the time and trouble and were heartily rewarded. GG are a band with a visual presence, and not in any showbiz sense of the word. I mean the kind of presence people talk about when they speak of seeing bands like the Birthday Party at their terrifying best, or Black Flag when they looked like a bunch of unshaved Manson Family beachbums (as a friend who saw them in London ca. 1984 described them). No need for any real tricks, the members in and of themselves create the atmosphere. Not that there's anything really menacing about GG, and I'm too old and jaded to be thrilled by people with music instruments trying to menace me; GG are simply a great band to watch.

Tolnay still has the fag hanging out his mouth at most hours of the day, but looks like he's taking day leave from a bikie gang; fill-in bass dude Nathan (ex-Hack, another Adelaide mob who made the Alt. Tentacles roster back in the day) has dreadlocks which just about scrape the floor; drummer George Klestinis still looks like he belongs in a rockabilly revival act and leans over his kit like it's taking his breath away (which it was); and front man and survivor Michael Farkas, essentially a paraplegic (brought on by the coma) sits on a seat centre stage, decked out in a black mesh top and leather rapist mask and barks out the brilliantly rudimentary lines known as GG lyrics, interspersed with the odd sax wailing.

The hits were there: "Louie The Fly", "Japanese Tram Driver", "Meat Axe", "Grong Grong", as well as covers of the Meteors' "The Hills Have Eyes", a nearly unrecognisable take on the MC5's "Lookin' At You" and more. The bass anchored the band, the drums played scattershot, losing their place on occasion but always (eventually) coming back to the beat, Tolnay wailed out an unholy mess of wirey guitar noise and Farkas screamed and yelled. A well-oiled supertight rock 'n' roll show with a sense of stop-on-a-dime discipline it certainly wasn't, but I didn't want that. I got a bunch of crazy old dudes on stage, a smoke machine and a band who still sound like no other.

I can see now why Jello must've hit the roof back in the day when he caught them play back in '83. Adelaide's still basically a one-horse-town in '09; back then it probably came across like the middle of nowhere for someone used to basking in the bohemian confines of urbane San Fran. And Grong Grong likely looked and sounded like they just arrived from another planet altogether. No pretenses, just flat-out fucking strange in the most beautiful way. I hope and suspect they'll be back sooner rather than later. Deluxe CD/DVD out soon on Memorandum/Fuse in a few weeks, too, ya know...

3 comments:

kami said...

thats exactly how it felt seeing them here in adullaide at the first comeback gig. a whole afternoon of bands trying to be noisy and menacing and dangerous (and most failing miserably) and then GG falls on stage and shows them all how its done.

Dave said...

Totally agreed. My god I sound like an old geezer, but seeing some 21-year-old on stage trying took "scary", when all they're doing is playing music (or trying), is laughable. A band pulls off such a feat by presence alone, they don't have to try so hard!

Jimmy said...

Reminded me of a guy I worked with about 20 years ago by the name of Joe Farkas. He was a rather large bouncer at the pub I worked at & he had a hair-trigger temper which was set off on a fairly regular basis more often than not by obnoxious drunk patrons who would piss him off, but sometimes even by other staff members, usually for fairly minor transgressions. As it was he had a sister & rumour had it that her name was Carmen but due to his tendency towards violence, no-one had the balls to ask him whether or not it was true. As it turned out, the story was entirely fictional & his sister's name was actually Eva or something like that. True story.

Anyway, after your latest entry on Grong Grong, I'm going to have to drag out the EP as well as my KSR records to see how they hold up. Maybe GG will make it to Sydney, but then again with the state of the scene (man...) here I'm doubting it.