BEASTS OF BOURBON
DAN KELLY & THE ALPHA MALES
DIGGER & THE PUSSYCATS
Gaelic Club, Sydney
February 20, 2004
WORDS & PICTURES: JOHN McPHARLIN
There are some images that you are destined to take with you to the grave and although it's early days yet, I fear that the sight of Tex Perkins with a flower tucked behind his ear and the rest of the bouquet stuffed down the front of his jeans as if his crotch had suddenly burst into bloom is going to be one of them. Believe me, the photos don't do justice to the awesome majesty of this spectacle. Not since Ron Peno's infamous photo session with Tony Mott, which ended up with Peno naked and bent over in an old bath tub with a rose sticking out of his arse, has the positioning of a floral arrangement seemed so confronting and... ominous.
Indeed, it was something of a confronting night all round, starting with the moment that I arrived at the Gaelic Club. Next to the cash register at the door there was a sign soliciting donations for Brian Hooper. What the fuck was that about? It turned out that Mr Hooper had managed to fall off a balcony and was now lying in hospital with a broken back. The prognosis is unclear and he imay be able to walk once he is fully recovered (unlike Soft Machine's Robert Wyatt, who did something similar many years ago and has been in a wheel chair ever since). For obvious reasons Mr Hooper had be replaced (at very short notice!) by Pat Bourke from Dallas Crane.
However there was much else to occupy the mind before the Beasts occupied the stage. Like Digger & the Pussycats for example. This turned out to be a two-man combo, neither of whom looked like a pussycat, or much of a digger either for that matter.
Do you, like me, find your heart sinking at every new drum and guitar duo? Do you, like me, find yourself thinking, "Uh oh, more White Stripes wannabes?". Do you, like me, find yourself wondering what all the bassists of the world must be doing with their spare time these days?
First up bands all over the world, from Jon Spencer to our own much missed Thermals, started dumping their bassists and going for a twin guitar attack, with just drums to provide the rhythm. Now there's a fresh purge on and the managers are dishing out the redundancy notices again ("Whadda we need two guitarists for? Ditch one and tell the other guy to play twice as loud..."). Not only does everybody get a bigger share of the loot, they can also save money by buying a smaller band van.
Dig those Pussycats.
For all that, Digger & the Pussycats were pretty entertaining, more Jon Spencer Blues Explosion than White Stripes, though tending strongly toward the Violent Femmes as the end drew near. Plenty of raw energy and youthful enthusiasm. Plenty of saliva too. Call me a malicious bastard, but I couldn't suppress a chuckle as the drummer hawked up a big one (one of many during their set) and let fly with it just as the guitarist made one of his periodic excursions across the stage, copping the expectorated gob point blank in the chest!
Before Digger & the Pussycats came on stage, the Stones' "Let It Bleed" had been blaring out over the P.A. and we got it again (in its entirety) after they departed. About half way through side one for the second time a bloke who had just wandered up next to me turned and asked, "Do you know who this is?". After I mentally staggered back a little I replied, "It's the Stones!". His expression changed instantly from vague and disoriented to hurt and angry. "Of course I know it's the Stones! I meant who's on stage next!".
I didn't have a clue, but fortunately a helpful fellow punter defused what could have turned into an extremely nasty incident (lucky the Gaelic Club doesn't have a car park!) by informing us both that it was Dan Kelly & the Alpha Males. I struggled for a few seconds and then it came to me: Dan Kelly used to play bass in Dan Brodie's band, but left to go solo acoustic. This conjured up a disturbing mental image of a cross between Dan Brodie and Paul Kelly; earnest songs with a decidedly country lean.
As it turned out Dan Kelly has the Drones' rhythm section behind him now and fortunately his repertoire leans very strongly in the same direction as the Re-mains, country rock with the emphasis on the rock part. In fact as the set progressed it sounded more and more like mainstream rock, but the second to last song (whatever it was called) was such a ball tearer that I was impressed enough to want to buy his album (only I couldn't get near the merchandise desk after the show, so I just went home).
Dan Kelly and Drone.
So then there's another set break, more Stones' "Let It Bleed" and then the main event. I used to be very suspicious of band reunions, especially where it was a one off (or several off, as they tend to be these days) with just a quick trot through the old favourites and no hint of any new works in the offing. While such shows may satisfy the loyal core of followers desperate to relive the glories of the past and give those too young to have had a chance to see the band in its prime a second chance to fill that gapping void in their lives, the truth is that most acts struggle to recapture the magic of the past, usually ending up sounding like no more than a very good covers band.
Sure the Lipstick Killers, Scientists and Lime Spiders have all briefly returned to give good accounts of themselves in the last couple of years and both Birdman and X have completely transcended their own legends. Come to think of it, neither the Stems nor the Barbarellas would have sent too many punters home unhappy after their performances last year at this very venue, but in the main...
However in this case I am not in a position to judge. You see, I have a terrible confession to make: I'd never actually seen the last (Charlie Owen) line up of the Beasts before. Nope, not once. Yeah, I know... and I am ashamed, but there it is. Lets just let it go and move on with our lives.
The Beasts often get compared to the Stones, but it's like rugby league and union as far as I am concerned: common origins, but their paths long ago diverged irrevocably. When it comes to the dance of life, these days the Stones are little more than a polite mazurka while the Beasts are still pure frenzied mosh, like a bludgeoning behind the toilet block at your local reform school, only set to music.
For those familiar with the "From the Belly of the Beasts" live set, tonight's show was largely that revisited, plus a few highlights from "Gone", though someone else suggested to me that "Beyond Good & Evil, the Stage Show" might make for a better reference point (snide bugger). Tex may not be quite so nihilistically unrestrained these days (after all, he's happily married with a young family and a solo career that's ticking over quite nicely, thank you very much), but he's still capable of leaving an audience in no doubt that this band is an original, not some pale knock off copy of someone else.
Without pretending that things are still as they once were, this was nonetheless a pretty good show. None of the band drink like they used to (everywhere I looked on the stage there was noticeably far more mineral water than alcohol), but what might have been lost in drunken fury and reckless abandon is more than compensated for by an extra decade's worth of musicianship and professionalism. They don't get any more primal than the Beasts and the passion is definitely still there.
Charlie Owen lets it bleed.
It's not just the band that's still got the passion either. The crowd was getting agitated before the band had even plugged in their instruments and when they launched into "Low Road", things really got rowdy [yeah okay, "Low Road" isn't actually on "From the Belly of the Beasts", but "Chase The Dragon", "Bad Revisited", "Cocksucker Blues", "Straight, Hard And Long", "Hard For You", "Drop Out" and "Let's Get Funky" all are!]. "Just Right" and "Ride On", both also from the "Low Road" album, were the other two non-Gone, non-From the Belly of the Beasts songs that got a run.
Amongst the crowd there seemed to be a fairly even spread of old acolytes and more recent converts. One of the former made several hopelessly optimistic calls for Butcher Shop, before he was drowned out by calls to "play some Stooges" (is this now the new "Free Bird/Whipping Post"?). The aforementioned flowers came from a woman who I suspect was one of the latter. No stranger to solo Tex perhaps, but unlikely to have seen the Beasts in all their harsh and brutal splendour before.
Another old fan who got into the party spirit was a guy who kept offering Tex a can of Jim Beam from the handfuls he was carrying (in each hand!). Tex kept declining politely, but eventually he was worn down when the guy was down to his last couple of cans. Unfortunately for Tex, the guy had bought all the cans before the set started and had been moshing pretty enthusiastically thereafter, so when Tex opened the can he copped a good spray. Not quite on the same level as the Digger & the Pussycats gobbing incident perhaps, but small things amuse (my) small mind.
Spencer P. Jones.
For about half the set some clown behind me had kept calling out for "Ride On", but when Tex finally announced that the next song was "two syllables, six letters...", strangely the penny failed to drop, though predictably enough he went berserk once they actually started playing it. For me on the other hand, the highlight of the set was definitely the version of "Saturated", which was full of quintessential Beasts aggression and brooding intensity (and comprehensively refuted any suggestion that there was no point in a Beasts reunion without Kim Salmon).
The Beasts may no longer run purely on booze and cigarettes as they once notoriously did, but they can still work up an honest sweat with the best of them. My only complaint, carping critic that I am, is that aside from "Ride On" there were no real slow, subtle songs; no "Can't Say No" (though Tex has been known to do this occasionally with the Dark Horses), no "Something To Lean On", no "This Day Is Over", no "Execution Day" even. I can't help suspecting that Tex might have opted to compartmentalize his music along Jekyll and Hyde lines: the subtle, sensitive songs going to the Dark Horses, leaving the Beasts with all the bile and the belligerence. It makes for a good night but it's just a pity that these songs then might be falling through the cracks.
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