Posted December 21, 2009

Yin Yang

By JIM LEWIS

Around 1994, the Powder Monkeys were ready to unleash their sonic mayhem on an ever increasing wider audience. There was no doubt there was a vibe around them in Melbourne at the time - I'm normally skeptical of hype bands but in this case it was fully deserved. They were on top of their game at the time and constantly blowing away not only audience members but bands they were playing with. Their furious combination of Motorhead power and New York Dolls/Stooges gutter punk struck a huge chord here in Melbourne.

I was lucky enough to chance upon the Powder Monkeys' debut gig (supporting tag team label mates Hoss) at the Great Britain Hotel and was immediately hooked. The obvious Bored! connection didn't hurt but their obvious love of 70s hard rock and punk hit the spot perfectly. So it came to pass that the name got around and more and more people started rocking up to check out the band including Dave Faulkner of the Hoodoo Gurus. He was spotted one night at the Prince of Wales in St Kilda going absolutely beserk watching their set. Although the Gurus successfully transitioned into the mainstream they've always had a finger on the underground pulse, so it was no surprise that the Powder Monkeys ended up supporting the Gurus albeit at possibly the most bizarre and, many ways entertaining shows I've ever attended.

In turned out the City of Casey was having a family/community day at Sandown Racecourse in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and the Gurus were to headline. Somehow (and I'm guessing the Gurus had a hand in this), the Powder Monkeys were to be the main support. This was a golden opportunity to good to pass up. I organised with a bunch of friends to head on out and we decided we might take a little something to enhance the experience of day. I'll leave it that so as not to incriminate myself but you should get some sense of the state we were in. Here's where it gets real complicated (and funny).

I stayed the night before the show at my good friend Mark's house. We were playing in a band at the time called Red Shift who had played support numerous times to the Powder Monkeys. (Just on an aside, Tim Hemmensley was a fantastic supporter of the punk/garage/hard rock/Detroit whatever the music we like is called scene and gave heaps of opportunities to young bands). We were all getting ready to head off the next morning when Mark receives a panicked phone call from Tim. They had played the night before in Tasmania and Timmy Jack Ray, their drummer, had somehow managed to get himself arrested for indecent exposure. The story went he left his motel room wearing only a dressing gown which Benny Hill-like opened at exactly the wrong moment resulting in the cops being called and TJR being hauled off to the lock up. Mark, who also was a regular attendee at Powder Monkeys gigs was asked to play the show. Mark figuring they would be stuck on a small stage somewhere playing in front of his mates, and knowing the songs from seeing the band so often, agreed and everything was OK.

So I caught up with my other friends and we headed out to the racecourse. As we got closer, we noticed the traffic was more akin to a football crowd in terms of its volume - we started to get the feeling that this was something of a major event. When we had to park a good 500 metres from the racetrack we realised a lot of people were going to be attending. When we finally got in, we were met with the sight of around 15,000 people enjoying the day. I'm not kidding. There were people everywhere and not the sort of people that were probably going to be down with what the Powder Monkeys were about to deliver.

As the afternoon wore on, our little something started to kick in and the day started to get more and more out there. I'm sure it was the only Powder Monkeys gig I've attended where Santa Claus arrived in a helicopter - but not before dropping thousands of chocolates onto the kids below. I remember my sister and myself almost wetting ourselves at the concept of having a lolly drop before one of the greatest scuzz rock bands of all time were about to take the stage. In the spirit of the day, the band on before the Powder Monkeys was a godawful tribute band called White Men Can't Reggae. I could hear a whirring sound during their set which was evidently Bob Marley spinning in his grave. They did however endear themselves to the hundreds of kids at the front of the stage by handing out posters of themselves.

So it was time for the Powder Monkeys to take the stage. I have a vivid memory of Mark setting up his drumkit on a stage you'd expect to see at the Big Day Out. This was no small stage in a hidden corner. This was the centrepiece of the festival and there would been well over 5,000 people milling around in front it. Mark looked just a little nervous giving he had never played with Tim and John before and was used to playing in front of 50 odd people not 100 times that amount. Just as the band was about to start there was a commotion. For those of you who drop the odd bet on the ponies, you'd know that there is a man-made lake at the back of the course. We could see a boat travelling across it with a figure standing on the deck gesticulating wildly. It was Timmy Jack who had been released and somehow got back across Bass Strait in time to make the show.

Mark relinquished his spot behind the drums and it was the full lineup of the Powder Monkeys that now took the stage. Those kids (and I'm talking 8 to 10 year olds here) that had glommed the free posters from the reggae band were still hanging around the front of the stage. I remember one of them asking expectantly "Will they be giving away free posters too?". Some of the wiser, female Powder Monkeys fans suggested it might be time to go and find mum now. Some kids left but there were still quite a few hanging around waiting for their free poster.

Tim announced the start of the show by noting "so I guess they proved white men really can't reggae" before launching into a monsterous version of Motorhead's Built for Speed. Within five seconds, there was a mad rush as horrified mothers came running in to rescue their kids from the sonic onslaught Tim and company were delivering. The Powder Monkeys proceded to rip through a ferocious set which included an audience member passing a joint up to Tim. So there was Tim Hemensley, the prince of Melbourne's scuzz rock n rollers, with a joint in his mouth ripping through a set of cranked up punk rock n roll, all at the expense of the City of Casey. They weren't asked to play the next year

 

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