LIVE GIGS, Part 1
A friend and I were having a laugh the other night at some of the ridiculous bands we've seen live over the years: the good, the bad and the truly ugly, so I started making a bit of a mental list of the international acts I've laid witness to. I will warn you, however, some of the below-mentioned may frighten you. Read and squirm as I attempt to explain my presence at some of the most awful musical units gracing our planet today, so before I start, let me first add these two points...
Firstly, prior to 1992 or so, it was incredibly rare for an overseas "underground" band to tour Australia. In the '80s, all we got was the Dead Kennedys, The Fall, Gun Club, the Cramps, Big Black and maybe a few others. I was too young for all of them. For me, the watershed weekend was in January 1989 when not only the Rollins Band but also Sonic Youth played here all in the space of two days. A young lad like me was in heaven. It wasn't really until the big "grunge" breakthrough of '91/'92 that foreigners of a remotely decent caliber started making regular trips down here. My point? Beggars can't be choosers. If it was someone I had the remotest interest in, I'd see them.
Secondly, from 1995-'99 I was working for a big "indie" label/distributor and received free entry to just about any touring band they were handling. Looking back, it looks like the vast bulk of them were either metal groups or just incredibly bad. Sometimes a combination of the two. What the fuck did I care? The price was right.
Saw these guys on the night of my 17th birthday in January 1989 at the Corner Hotel. My scant memories are these: I was panicking at the door, wondering whether I'd be able to scam my way in; Ollie Olsen's NO supported (whom I didn't dig a whole lot and whose discography has aged worse than a carton of milk); I recall looking at Kim Gordon and thinking, "How fucking old is this group? She could be my Mum!"; Sonic Youth rocked da haus down.
Whilst the name "Rollins" has become synonymous with bad poetry, bad films, bad music and, well, everything that is bad about life as we know it in the last decade or more, what becomes forgotten in all of this is just how good he once was. Scratch that: how fucking great he once was. Fresh from his stint in 'Flag, Hank was a bit of an icon in the land of Oz for a while, and I was no exception in the adoration. Rollins and co. put on a sweat-filled extravaganza that I still rave on about to friends, and whilst the young 'uns may be baffled in my gushing for a guy that's since proven himself to be a complete and total waste of space and fresh air, back in the day, he was IT. Seriously, one of the top 5 gigs I've ever seen.
On another note, I did also catch his mid-1990 show at the Old Greek Theatre and he stunk like a rotting corpse. By then he'd discovered "da blooze" and punished everyone present with 20-minute jams about guns, mouths, cops, whatever. I wasn't listening. Once burned, never to return.
I think this was late '89, their first visit, at the Old Greek Theatre again. Don't remember much except that I thought they were "hot". Never cared for Mudhoney at all on disc (except for the first couple of singles), though they proved themselves in a live setting.
On another note, I went to see Mudhoney again in December 1990 at the Palace. With a pre-paid ticket I approached the doorman who, not seeing any ID from myself, refused to let me in (even though I was turning 19 soon). Despite my pleas, he promptly told me to fuck off or prove my age. Infuriated, I tore my ticket up and made my way home, at which point I was jumped by a couple of thugs, beaten into the gutter and spent the rest of the weekend in hospital with cuts, bruises and concussion. Mark Arm, you owe me!
This was Mascis's first trip down here, mid 1990. By then he was already on a slippery slope to sub-mediocrity, and the show proved exactly that. Again at the Old Greek Theatre, friends of mine dug it, though I was so bored I think I left before it finished.
Oh man, here's an embarrassing one. This was late 1990 at the Prince of Wales. Why was I seeing ALL? Like I said: why not? I was a big Descendents fan back in the day (laugh all you want, their '80s LPs still light my fire), and even though I always thought ALL sucked and were merely a pale imitation of their former selves (ie. Descendents), I figured I had to see them, especially with the presence of ex-'Flagsman, Bill Stevenson, in tow. The verdict? Yeah, they sucked.
What was I saying about beggars and choosers? This was early '91, before Evan and co. really ate shit, and since I liked their 1st and 3rd albums a lot (yeah, fuckin' sue me, they still sound OK), I bit the bullet. All I can say about this is that it was the loudest show I've ever attended, and in fact was the inspiration for me deciding to wear earplugs to all subsequent gigs. You Am I supported, who were down for their first Melbourne shows. What can a man say? They blew then and continue to do so.
This was probably the watershed tour for independent bands hitting our shores. Not only were Fugazi actually a shit-hot unit at the peak of their powers, but they played all-ages shows and at a bargain price, too. Saw both of their Melbourne Uni gigs late '91 and it's safe to say they blew everyone's socks off. Funnily enough, on one of the nights, none other than Evan Dando supported in an acoustic set, doing unplugged versions of old Minor Threat and Misfits numbers. There's a show for the ages! For myself, the highlight was my pants-wetting post-gig interview with Ian MacKaye for some lame-arsed fanzine I was writing for (which was never published... in my nervousness I fucked up and forgot to press record!). Ian proved himself to be the gentleman he's reputed for.
I tell ya, at this stage Greg Norton could've toured as a pastry chef and I would've seen him. It didn't matter that Bob was playing unplugged and was boring as dogshit... it was that ex-Husker Du guy! Saw him at the Sarah Sands in '91 and slipped into a coma halfway through the set.
Though I was completely obsessed with the 'Pups back in high school, my interest in them had slipped to a big, fat zero by '92, but I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity of a free lunchtime show at Melbourne Uni (after all, I only had about 100 metres to travel). Much to my surprise, they were incredible: tight, funny, rocking, they played mostly old material and I was transported. A top 10 fave.
This was a weird one: an all-ages afternoon gig at the Corner Hotel, ca. '92. I dug the 'Kross immensely back in the '80s but had given up on them by this stage. For good reason, too: they were terrible. If only they'd toured back in '88...
Gotta skip a couple of years here. I think this was '95, when they were touring with the Dambuilders(!) and Jeff Buckley(!!). They played a solo show at the Corner and hit it hard. A great, lost band, who unfortunately released all their worst material just as they were going to hit it big. Those first three albums, though...
Now this was a gig, no matter how bad it was going to be, I was not going to pass up. How bad was it? It was bad. Wrong venue (Festival Hall), too many knuckleheads, uninspired performance and the two single worst support bands I've ever had to suffer through: GOLDFINGER and SKUNK ANANSIE. Oh, the horror... For the record, everyone raved about their Palace show, so maybe I just picked the wrong one.
Here's a freebie from the record company, in case you're wondering. Never cared for the big grindcore "movement" of the day, though my curiosity got the better of me, so I gathered a few metalhead buddies from work and hightailed it to the Palace. The only points of note were the singer's immense mullet and bad soccer outfit, and just how fucking boring Napalm Death were. I mean, I can handle some death metal when it's done well, maybe with a few twists and turns and something different in the mix (I'm scraping for a name here, though NILE pop up, a contemporary death metal group who aren't bad), but "the 'Death" are guilty of the crime every finger-pointer makes at the genre: it all sounds the same. Next!
This was '96 or '7, and another freebie for their Corner show. Napalm Death should take a few pages out of Brutal Truth's book: they rocked! Shitbag grinding pot-rock from a group of deadbeats who play 1000 mph and never let up for a second. Most comical of all was the drummer, with his snare planted somewhere between his ankles, leaning over with an anguished look as his arms moved like butterfly wings. Certainly the most unique drumming style I've witnessed in a live setting. Any "grind" band willing to cover a Holy Trinity of artists such as the Boredoms, Sun Ra and the Germs in their set gets an OK from me.
Whoah! I told you I was getting free entries to a ton of metal gigs at the time, so what the hell, throw Cathedral in there. I know that some people hail this band as the be-all and end-all of Doom, but I just don't get it. Their mid-period albums are shockingly bad, sounding more like Bad Company than Black Sabbath, and even their much-touted debut (can't remember the name... Forest of equilibrium?) never moved me an inch. Gimme a bit of Electric Wizard or Warhorse or Sleep any day of the week! Anyhow, this tour was, recording-wise, Cathedral at their all-time worst phase, though live they were pretty OK. Heavy-as-lead doom-rock with the gear switched into Sabbath mode, they swung and shook their way through a solid set dosed with elements of self-deprecating humour, though I don't care what anyone says: Lee Dorian couldn't sing his way out a soggy paper bag - dreadful, dreadful stuff. At Joey's in Prahran, of all venues.
Oh dear, the things you do. Why did I go to this? Am I a glutton for punishment? Yes. I think my only justification could be that I was curious about the support act, UK's SNUFF, whose debut LP from 1990 I liked back in the dark ages, and, well... it was free and my social life was faltering. The Palace, which must fit up to 1,800 or 2,000 people, was packed to the rafters with legions of obnoxious, dickheaded skater clones, so I attempted to ignore my surroundings and simply enjoy any scraps of decent music willing to come my way. Which wasn't much. Snuff were awful, being more "ska-punk" by that stage than the kind of high-energy punker action I'd dug them for in the first place, and NOFX... well, I'd hardly know. I left after about 30 seconds of their set to escape the throngs of slamming, pogoing, stagediving buffoons who threw me around like a rag doll the moment an opening chord was struck. I think it's very safe to say that, had I stuck around, I wouldn't've enjoyed them anyway. Yes, that's a very safe bet.
This was Jad's first tour in mid '97, and since I was (and still am) very good friends with the guy who brought him out (Dr. Jim) and a raving fan of many years, I was asked if I'd like to go on tour with Jad up the east coast for general morale/roadying duties. It's a deal! Said tour was detailed exhaustively in an article I wrote for a fanzine many a year back, so I don't really care to revisit it, suffice to say that Jad is one of the true gentlemen of rock, and his band, Jason Willett and Benb Gallagher, are two of the loveliest, most eccentric Americans I've ever come across. No drugs, barely a beer consumed the whole time, not a female groupie in sight, this was a tour for the hardcore nerds. Of which I was one.
This was a weird one. The Boredoms - the fuckin' BOREDOMS, man - were supporting has-been no-talents Regurgitator, basically because the 'Gurge boys paid for them to come out. Which is of course a nice gesture and public service, but doesn't make them suck any less. Naturally, the Boredoms made everyone go nuts - in a good way, myself included - and half the crowd left the second they exited the stage. As they damn well should.
This is from '97 or '8, and similar to the Boredoms experience, in the sense that the Melvins were roped into supporting a much lesser outfit, the Cosmic Psychos. Not knowing this beforehand, I arrived at 10 o'clock just to catch the Melvins hitting the stage, absolutely shocked to discover they were playing support to a band NO-ONE cared about. The Melvins? They were good, real fuckin' good. The 'Psychos? Ask someone who was present. I think about 3 people were left when they hit the stage.
Saw the Melvins again in 2002 at the Cherry Bar, but, having consumed about a dozen beers beforehand, I was really only there in body, not in mind or spirit. Errr... my memory's hazy of the event.
BOB DYLAN/PATTI SMITH
Hardly an "underground" gig, though this was my first arena experience (at the Tennis Centre), one I decided to attend at the peak of my Dylan-mania, and the only thing it taught me is this: those crazy punkers in the '70s were right when they said arena rock had killed rock'n'roll. I mean, sitting down at a gig? What the hell is that? I would've been better off just renting a video of this performance. Up in the nosebleed seats, I could barely even see the stage, and worst of all, the sound was so quiet. Like I said, I wear earplugs to every show I attend, but had to take them out this time coz I couldn't hear a thing! Patti was OK, lively at least, though Dylan played like he was embalmed, and, as is his trade, reworked a few of his old classics into unrecognisable snore-inducing jams. No, actually, worst of all was the big group of people behind me talking and arguing (about a burnt dinner, no less) the whole way through it. When I turned around to shoosh them I very quickly realised "they" were a big group of leatherclad bikers, so I had to sit there and suffer it. Never again...
I think this was '98 and something I paid actual money for. What to say of Tortoise? They released two great albums (the first and second, naturally) and have spent the last ten years doing a very convincing impersonation of Weather Report. Which is not a good thing.
This was early '99 at the Corner Hotel, with Dave Thomas and one or two original members. The venue was jam-packed with a plethora of old geezers, and 'Ubu were surprisingly solid, with Thomas displaying the kind of grumpiness he's reputed for, and the band, mainly made up of ring-ins or "new members" hit the nail on the head more often than not.
All right! Remember the Varukers? Nope? The only reason I really know of them at all is because, back in 1984, ABC TV played a special called "UK DK" which documented the decaying punk scene in England at the time. My brother and I taped it and watched it repeatedly, giggling at the gobbing mohicans and marveling at the atrocious music. The band that stood out the most were the Varukers with their "hit", "Soldier Boy". It became a no-brainer anthem in the Lang household for many years, so when a "reformed" Varukers threatened to hit our shores, the Brothers Lang were going to be there with bells on. This was '99 or so at the Arthouse, Australia's premier venue for z-grade punk, so a group of us lined up for an evening of high comedy. What would they look like? What would they sound like? Will they still have the Discharge spikes or will they've grown their hair and gone speed metal? Well, it was nostalgia time: out came the boys (well, two original members at least) with the trademark '81 Discharge-do's, three chords and a world full of hate. They rocked the roof off! Sure, you had to leave your brain at the door, but for a night of dumb-as-hell punker entertainment, you can't go past the Varukers.
Another freebie which I got via the record store I was working in at the time, this was 2000, I think, at the Corner Hotel. I really liked Labradford's debut, Prazision, back in '93 when it came out, but basically forgot about their existence in the ensuing years, though when a free ticket comes my way... Let's put it this way: if your idea of a good night out is hanging around a smoky venue surrounded by cardigan-clad indie-rock douchebags whilst suffering the sounds of three pretentious art-school drop-outs ripping off Eno's '70s albums, an evening of Labradford is what you require.