Juke and The Kid fly the flag for the Hitmen.

"BEIJING BLITZ"
THE HITMEN
+ JOHNNY CASINO & THE SECRETS
+ GHOST VALLEY
Annandale Hotel, Sydney
08.08.08

Words: THE BARMAN
Pictures: STEVEN DANNO LORKIN

A one-off show and a brave piece of scheduling, pitted as it was against opening night of the Beijing Olympics. Bugger me, if Kannis and Crew didn't blow the Games off the map and pull what was close enough to a full house. And unlike what went down in China, no lip-synching or fake fireworks were involved.

Ghost Valley broke the ice and this crew of youngsters from Sydney's eastern suburbs showed confidence beyond their years. Must have been the old fart on drums at the back who goes by the moniker Skidmark. I'd heard about these guys and although they only had a couple of starts under their belts, you'd never tell.

It's an amalgam of four or five different styles, crunching a hybrid of old school punk with nu-metal riffing and quirky tempo changes. Greater stage presence will come with time but vocalist Crispy is already a towering personality, prowling the stage like he's lost his bus fare home and and propping himself up with a mic stand until he's good and ready to do another lap. You have to admire a young bloke who gets around in tartan pyjamas. Spike is coming along as a fine and unobtrusive guitarist and bassist Nick takes care of business in simplistic style, a la Dee Dee Ramone. Their cover of GOD's "My Pal" was an assured choice.


What They Do Is Secret: Johnny Casino's crew

Johnny Casino & The Secrets followed soon after and unveiled a surprise with Celibate Rifle Kelvin The Elf joining them on second guitar. It was a supporting role and only his second show with the band but let's pull no punches and label this one of Sydney's premier guitar pairings, even at this early juncture.

Despite best intentions I didn't see the whole set as I had serious social engagements to attend to - OK, I was ligging and sinking some free piss - but the sprinkling of new songs augured well for the new album, being recorded as I type.

The Hitmen hit the stage full of fire and Frank Sinatra. Intro tape over, it's "Dancin' Time" - literally - for the enthusiastic house.


Satorially splendour: Zeus and Klondike

The party started now and was pretty well as expected - no sense in changing a winning formula - save a couple of lesser-played first album tunes. Lesser played but not lesser lights: How does a rip-roaring "Corridors of Power" and a steely-eyed "I Stand Alone" grab you? A crowd-pleasing selection for sure, with "Rock and Roll Soldiers" unleashed early and the two-punch "Shake Some Action" and Suspicious Minds" bringing up the rear. The new song, "Another Lost Weekend", wins more fans at every outing. Here's betting we might hear some latter day stuff when the band does it again.

There's a lot of mutual love between audience and band for that big chorus in "Everybody Knows". Tonight's vibe is especially relaxed. There might be life and death struggles brewing in China (and they're just between officials and the families of athletes trying to get into events to see their loved ones) but The Hitmen come off like they're playing a party in their front room - which is, after all, how they treated it when they started, all those decades ago.


Kannis connects with his people.

It's fair to say that Johnny Kannis spent almost as much time in the crowd as on stage - and made two excursions into the masses just in the first five songs. You just can't keep a Vegas showman down, even when he wears a Scarface T-shirt.

Authentic Saturday Night Live cowbell patter presages "Don't Fear The Reaper" and despite Klondike's protestations that there are too many complicated bits, he and guitar brother-in-arms Juke nail it to the wall. Props also to the Tony Robbo-Muzz Shepherd combo. Despite its thus short tenure, it's one of the best in the business. My opinion on the drummer's been stated. The Kid always laid down a very melodic bass bedrock and to my mind that was an essential but unsung element to the band, back in that phase.

Encores find Masuak giving voice to a golden oldie in "Death By The Gun". "King of Surf" fell by the wayside, victim to a lack of time, but no-one was complaining about a 19-song bracket. Of course we all sang our way through the closing "Shake" and "Suspicious" (a handful of us in tune, even) and if there was the sense of more than a few old stagers wrapping their arms around memories, well it sure beats standing in front of a bunch of Commie tanks in Tinnamen Square.

Nugget May wasn't around to give his verdict but Andrew Paschalidis apparently was. Both would have declared the performance "Gold! Gold! Gold!" Watch for a major Australian tour in October-November off the back of that stalled but not forgoteen live CD with Niagara with special guests rumoured.

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