Annandale Hotel, Sydney
Saturday July 2, 2005


Radio Birdman appearances are at a premium these days, the band only just working in a replacement for drummer Nik Rieth some five months and 11 days after their last show. (That’s 162 Birdman-less days, for those counting). This
re-appearance will consist of just three dates, all in small-ish venues, and the shows are more an opportunity to shake out the cobwebs than to win over new fans.

The run will also hopefully serve to regain momentum for those (frustratingly tentative) plans to enter the studio in August. Gig Number One also fits into a star-studded week at Sydney’s much-loved Annandale Hotel, celebrating the anniversary of it re-opening its doors to live shows.

The long-held ambition that Radio Birdman shows be “events” rather than rote shows certainly holds up, with tickets to this 400-odd venue sold out 10 days earlier. Lots of expectation in the air and familiar faces at the bar as the room fills for support band The Specimens.

Coming out of Melbourne with a sharp set of songs heard best on their second and latest album “The Quick and the Deaf” (In-Fidelity), they’re a twin-guitar outfit playing rock and roll with feet anchored in the Oz Rock and Detroit hi-energy camps.

The comment’s made by a seasoned judge that he’s not much into “trucker hat rock” (which I take to reflect on guitarist-singer Terry Opie’s dress sense as much as the songs they spit out) but that he takes to their songs is telling. The Specimens have an otherwise unadorned, bullshit-free approach to their song-craft, and the three-quarters full room laps up what’s dished up. Unless I’m fixating on their last album, it sounds like there’s a few newies in the set, which shows they’re not standing still. Europeans will be in for a treat when they make it to their neck of the woods, late in 2005. "Get On Top" is a shouldhavebeenahit

The Annandale’s extended hours and expanded lay-out (they’ve spilled into the shop nextdoor) enables activation of a second stage in what used to be the front bar, and it’s filled to good effect between, and after, the main band’s set by The Clearspots.

This is grimy, garage bark with a fuzz-laden bite driven by a Mo Tucker beat, and it stands up really well. Any young band adventurous enough to re-arrange “Slave Girl” and make it their own deserves attention. Other activities, like jostling for a good spot in the main band room and ligging, preclude me from seeing a full set but they’re a name to mark in the memory bank for next time.

So to Radio Birdman and the rumoured slew of new songs turns out to be just a handful, with the Pip-penned “Zeno” and another (whose name everyone missed but was slotted into the encores) getting a guernsey. Neither will disappoint fans of the band’s well-established style (read: doom-laden minor chords with menacing overtones). Still, it’s not just a greatest hits package. Two of the newies aired in January, “Rock Bottom” and “Disconnected”, are firmly established in tonight’s set, as is the perennial opener “What It’s For”, whose lineage goes back a little further. Collectively, they might just be crumbs from the table in terms of what might make it to the new album, but they’re gratefully received nevertheless.

So is a storming cover of “Search and Destroy” (whose inclusion is deemed OK as it doesn’t figure in the now very much reformed Stooges’ set list). It’s still brutal but played a little slower than surviving live recordings of Radio Birdman in the ‘70s would indicate, and the groove sits just fine.

Speaking of which, new drummer Russell Hopkinspon came through with flying colours (a mistimed intro on “Endzone” not down to him, a third party later points out). The peculiar combination of understated drive and all-important feel that’s needed to anchor, rather than re-invent these songs, is there in abundance. Let’s hope his ongoing You Am I commitments and ever-burgeoning record company activities allow his Birdman membership to co-exist.

By my calculations (which could be seriously flawed as I’ve missed a few interstate gigs) tonight is the first time the band’s played “Monday Morning Gunk” since one of the last shows of the January 1996 reformation. It’s pure Blue Oyster Cult-meets-the New York Dolls and sends the crowd right off.

The energy levels are extreme, even for Radio Birdman, and gigs in small venues may be their stock-in-trade until that elusive new album is released. It’s all surprisingly tight, given that there have only been a handful of full-band rehearsals as the usual logjam of external commitments intervene.

Other points of interest: Klondike is now sporting a red Gibson Firebird that those in more sonically balanced parts of the room reckoned sounded extremely ballsy. A couple of hardheads reckoned Rob’s vocals sounded a bit worse for wear, which might reflect on his lack of recent matchplay. Don’t ask me, I was up front. And Pip opted for a change of headgear - “The Beret Is Back” was an early candidate for review headline - with the red cap (and tie) consigned to wherever the hell Birdmen get their laundry done.