Posted June 17, 2009

The Empire of Annandale Hotel, Sydney
Saturday, May 9, 2009

Words & Pictures: THE BARMAN

If you thought of this show as a case of the Youngsters versus the Old-Hands, it might have seemed an imbalanced fight just on sheer numbers. Collectively, veterans The Alohas, The Intercontinental Playboys and Elephant Gods boast the combined years of the Old Jerusalem football team that had Christ as fullback. Despite this, rookies The Archerbolds more than held their own.

Ah, The Acherbolds. I don’t quite know how to pigeonhole their thing, which is more often not a good thing. Let’s call The Archerbolds’ strain of music ambitiously creative rock and roll with a garage, beat and psych edge and move on.

A four-piece of multi-cultural background, they’re naïve in their stagecraft and sometimes embarrassed to be here at times but, boy, they can play. The drummer sits all night on his hi-hat so they’re not the hardest-driving kids on this block, but his style suits the choppy time changes and top-string action of the twin guitar line-up. The songs also have the ring of the Sunnyboys somewhere in there. Maybe that accounts for their big female following.

The Elephant Gods are a punchy garage-soul party, with tenor sax and trumpet playing off keyboards, fuzz guitar and a bouncy bottom-end. Dr J (vocalist/bassplayer) is the focal point and is all over the place, driving the songs on and generally having a ball. He’s apparently their original lead singer who’s back after a recent line-up change. That their drummer is Graham Potter from the Barracudas (and played on their best album “Mean Time” a disc that also boasted Passengers/Radio Birdman/New Christs bassist Jim Dickson) ups their cachet considerably.  

Someone tosses a King Khan comparison out there and it’s a fair call. They’ve only been around for about a year and gigging steadily with an evolving line-up. Tonight shows a band that’s capable of grabbing more attention, given half a break.  

Next up are The Intercontinental Playboys and an interest has to be declared here as they’re the newest signing to I-94 Bar Records. Not that this detracts from my view that they are the best band in Australia pushing the barrow of voodoo/suave/organ-and-fuzz garage rock – quite the opposite.

The Playboys have carved out their own niche and qualify as veterans and tonight is a about showing off the songs from their next long-player, due in August.

There’s tongue-in-cheek in the way the Playboys put their thing over and that’s a quality missing from younger bands playing the same field. Their turf’ isn’t straight-up garage rock - it’s more measured with Mick O’Regan’s keys prominent throughout and it’s what makes them stand out. They don't play it for laughs but they have fun.

Lead man Tom Von Spatula can scream with the best of ‘em but also cajoles and sermonizes, while the array of fuzz sounds available to Ben adds the necessary texture to rock the roof off.

You’ll hear the new-ish Playboys songs soon enough and while the bulk of the forthcoming album is tuneage that they’ve been airing for a couple of years, tonight it sounds fresher than a Lothario calling for his pipe and smoking jacket when he arrives home after a night on the tiles at the Playboy Club.

In that vein, the now building crowd is as appreciative as a blonde being thrown a gold Amex by her sugar daddy, and they especially like the rendition of “Faster Pussycat.” It’s an obvious but nevertheless emphatic wave of the cravat in the direction of the late Lux Interior.

If the Playboys are top of their class in Australia, The Alohas similarly own the category of Dirty Surf. From the minute they stride on in matching surgical gowns, masks and caps (probably a Swine flu reference) they have the crowd eating out of their presumably scrubbed hands. The doctor is in.

I couldn’t name many songs (although I’m reaching for their album as I type) but it doesn’t matter that no-one sang along ‘cos The Alohas don’t have any lyrics.

The Alohas surge along like a king tide, with nary a pause for breath between songs.

Surf guitar music is a self-limiting genre that relies on a band doing something different to maintain interest. The Alohas' path to enlightenment is paved with enough fuzztone to make Davie Allan’s ears bleed and more on-stage jostling than an Anthony Mundine pre-fight weigh-in. It's a fine ending to a good night.

P.S. It's also one of the last nights of rock and roll at The Empire. Despite solid houses every Saturday under the Barfly Promotions banner, the venue has called a halt and wants to turn the room into a restaurant (!) along a streetscape littered with closed eateries. How do you spell idiocy?