Gaelic Club, Surry Hills, Sydney
Friday, August 12 2005


There was no state to be left in but stunned amazement by the time the Beasts put a bullet into the 80-minute fucker that was their set this cold Sydney Friday night. This isn't a band but a living, breathing thing, with a sick and twisted mind. The Gay-lick's 800-odd-capacity room could barely contain the energy that this band put out.

But first to the supports and leading off were the Birdblobs, the half of whose set I caught. And it was a mixed entree. While it’s one thing to want to be The Drones it’s another thing entirely managing to replicate their curious brand of extended sonic angst. The Birdblobs seemed a little lacking on the originality scale and trying a lot to be like some of the old Evil Star bands of the ‘80s (none of which I originally thought they would have been old enough to see - but since stand corrected as one of the Dum Dumis in the Birdblobs. Small world).

No such doubts about Six Ft Hick, a two-headed hydra from the deep north of Brisbane about whom I’d heard heaps over the years but with which I’d never managed to cross paths in the flesh. Shame on me. Theirs’ is a hard and unhinged take on rockabilly, bereft of quiffs but chockfull of energy. Up front are the Corbett brothers, two alpha males called Ben and Geoff whose forceful delivery of off-the-wall songs finds them habitually resorting to back-bends, knee-drops or forays into the audience to make their point.

The Corbetts are a all over the stage, pacing their turf and admonishing the crowd and bandmates. One recent show had one of them (Geoff?) on the bar at the Annandale, setting fire to a pile of shaving cream on his chest. No pyrotechnics tonight, just a set that has the audience baying for more. It’d probably take a few more live encounters for the lyrical charm of songs like “I Was Just Cleaning It And It Went Off” to truly kick in (I don’t own their records).

A couple of people opine that the Hick is a lot more polished than in the past but surely that’s not a bad thing, just an observation. We want more.

Then the Beasts begin. How can you describe their sound? There's a big, rumbling bottom end, and a shredding, rusty edge to the guitars. They heave and groan but there's no mistaking the intent. It's a sound like like a vicious street hood palming a packing knife and suffering a serious dose of consumption. Grim and infected.

Cop the visuals: There's Spencer P. Jones, dressed in a long black coat and a leather cap, like the kind Sylvain Sylvain sports these days. Spence wears a grin for most of the set and looks like some demented sea captain, just in port after six months away and out to contract both terminal liver damage and syphilis - just as soon as he's beaten shit out of everybody in the bar.

Next is Tex Perkins, torn black T-shirt and arms a-flapping like some wounded bird of prey. A serious presence and still one of Australian music's most engrossing frontmen, and the possessor of a serious howl, when the mood takes him. Captivatingly psychopathic.

To his left is bassman Brian Henry Hooper, shirt unbuttoned to the waist and a shock of unriuly hair. He's "el titanium rods of the phoenix" - to give him his Tex-bestowed, alleged Spanish nickname - back on two legs and having the time of his life. Guy broke his back a couple of years ago and isn't long out of a wheelchair. He shuffles onstage with the help of a cane but leans into his work and throws himself around, all loose hips and bobbing head, just like in the past.

Tony Pola sits behind the drumkit like some illegal casino croupier taking up his spot at the blackjack table. Tex refers to him reversing the ageing process at one stage, and then climbs into him in the middle of "Straight Long and Hard" with a screamed "Drum you cunt!" for halting the beat. We'll put that down as a spot of encouragement rather than admonishment 'cos his simple, driving feels mostly seemed spot on.

Then there's guitarist Charlie Owen, once drafted to fill the substantial shoes of Kim Salmon but now a fully-fledged Beast in his own right. There was never any doubt that he was the man for the job when Kim vacated the band. Tonight, Charlie rips out some masterful sounds and physically throws himself into the fray in time with Tex's frenzied lunges.

“A Place Called Bad” has long been a favourite Beasts tune – few bands do that skanky feeling as well as this with that otherworldy chord progression – and it’s the opening selection. Sublime. But it’s “Chase the Dragon” that kicks the night into overdrive. How many songs about secreting drugs in body cavities can you name that artfully rhymes “souvenir” with “Kampuchea”? The punters are at one with the band.

With such a broad and worthy body of work behind them, what do you leave out? Well, I can’t say "Gone" (the last Beasts studio album) did as much for me as it should have, so I suppose you could nominate most of those songs. The fact is that “Make ‘Em Cry” and “Saturated” (especially) have grown in the approval stakes with time and are worthy – no, compulsory - inclusions. No “Psycho” tonight from the older stuff but “Dropout” drops in for the encores (let's give an appropriate nod to James Baker).

“Finger Lickin’ “ almost pecks a hole in the Gaelic’s floor, Spencer and Charlies’ guitars going at it like hens on meth. KFC need to use this in their next TV ad, maybe with the Beasts gleefully disembowling whatever it is that The Colonel uses in what they pass off as chicken.

Might have been imagination but it seems like two covers, “Ride On” and “Cocksucker Blues”, are the two audience singalong faves by a l-o-o-o-o-n-g way. OK, I know a lot of people like Acca Dacca but the fact so many people know the lyrics to the second so well (even allowing for the presence of this notorious Stones outtake on “The Low Road”) probably says something for how many abused former schoolboys or abusive ex-cops there are running around Sydney.

I remember taking The Barmaid to a Beasts gig in the ‘90s and her remarking that the room looked like it was full of criminals (no big deal if you’re in the Remand Wing at Long Bay, but we were in the lounge bar at Selina’s Coogee Bay Hotel). Looking around tonight reminds me that it may have been more than a throwaway line.

You could stake a case that for all the seamy lyrical themes and brutal rhythms (cf “Driver Man”) in which the Beasts indulge, what they’re really all about is A Big Fat Dirty Groove, For evidence you’d need go no further than tonight’s "Just Right” which was, er, just right.

And there’s still more venom in the closing song, “Hard For You”, than a suitcase full of black snakes.

Towards the end, Tex gives himself up to the reckless persona that slipping back into the Beasts brings out in them all, twice standing Christ-like, with arms outstretched, to plummet off-stage, for the moshpit to catch his prostrated form. No-one lets Tex down and indeed the same can be said for the Beasts on this most hot of Sydney winter nights

A Place Called Bad
Low Road
Chase the Dragon
Make 'Em Cry
Finger Lickin'
Black Milk
Just Right
Straight, Long & Hard
Ride On
Driver Man
Let's Get Funky

Cocksucker Blues
Hard For You

The new Beasts of Bourbon live album "Low Life" is out now on Spooky Records and is reviewed here