Woonona-Bulli RSL Club
December 5, 2002

Another month, another Radio Birdman tour. Not quite, but it is barely six months since the last time they strode stages. Not that anyone in their right mind is complaining. The occasion, this time, is an offer to play the all-Australian outdoor Homebake festival, but the band has slotted in two warm-up dates as well. Woonona-Bulli RSL, barely an hour south of Sydney on the northern fringes of working class Wollongong, is one such gig, which is where I'm heading in company with three other fans.

I spent a lot of time in the the 'Gong in the early '80s, but it was a long time ago and not much of it was on the north side of town, which was sort of sleepy once you got past Collies, the Charles Hotel and the Fraternity Club. That's my story anyway. I was acting as navigator and my call of a left turn at the bottom of Bulli Pass instead of a right means I was only 50 percent wrong. Plus, we were only 10 minutes late and got to show touring Birdman fan Jelly (all the way from the Old Dart for just a week's holiday) a side of Australia - the very scenic strip between Bulli and the Headlands Hotel at Austinmeer to be precise - a part of Australia that he was unlikely to catch again.

The band room is a wide one with a tiered section at the back, where the mixing desk sits. Behind it are curtained-off seats, more suited to dining on cheap rubber chicken tucker and cheaper RSL beers than catching a Real Rock Band. There's a medium-sized crowd on hand which is a little curious since Wollongong has a reputation for liking its music, preferably hard boiled. Local intelligence indicates that You Am I came through the same venue a week earlier, charging about half the price. The head count rises towards showtime but it is a fact that Wollongong is a price-sensitive place and this probably stops the night short of selling out. Not that the punters on hand are anything but devoted. One bloke sits sketching on an artist's pad at stage left. Others are obviously veterans of recent Birdtours, judging by the T-shirts they're wearing tonight. There are a fair few Sydney faces scattered around (probably the ones disinclined to go to a festival) too, but it's comfortable rather than wall-to-wall packed.

My first live taste of support band, The D4, was at a Birdman show in Melbourne earlier this year. The D4 were scheduled to hit the UK at the time, where they were attracting critical attention of the positive kind, but flew especially to Australia to play one show at The Corner Hotel with the Birdies. It was fine stuff, marked by a storming cover of "Pirate Love" that betrayed their influences. The band has been working around the world since then, copping more than sporadic attention from the UK music media mafioso. All that roadwork has paid off and tonight's D4 is a more focussed, formidable and fiery outfit.

The first thought is "Heartbreakers" and the next is "bordering on greatness". There's a fine line between copying legends and copping FROM them. The D4 have it just about right. Lashings of Thunders-like guitar (but played tight) in all the right places, but they also borrow from a broader range of '60s invasion and Detroit bands. The Dead Boys-like "Heartbreaker" is a peak, way down towards the end of the set. Dion and Vaughan slip into the chugging rhythm just like Cheetah and Jimmy. Dion discards his instrument to teeter out on the edge of the stage, microphone in hand, telling the crowd exactly how he feels, before strapping his axe back on as the song explodes into its finale.

There are plenty of excellent songs in the back pocket and most of them you can check out for yourself on the band's debut album, "6Twenty". As good as that album is, The D4 is very much a band that needs to be experienced live just to feel the full-throated raw of their twin-guitar firestorms bereft of studio refinement. Songs like "Rocknroll Motherfucker" and "Ladies Man" are chock-full of dynamics and attitude. The set's over too soon. Can someone ask Dion where he buys those Cuban heels?

There's barely time to charge the glasses in-between bands before the Birdmen stroll on and launch into "Burn My Eye". Deniz is sporting a Rock Action T-shirt (Scott Asheton's personal clothing design line, no less) which seems appropriate. He locks into the sound and rides it hard, flailing away on the famous white Epiphone Crestwood that's become a trademark. A relaxed and energetic Rob Younger slams into his work, clearly enjoying himself, while Klondike Masuak is razor sharp on his right-hand side, meshing effortlessly with his partner in bent strings like the last show he'd played with the Iceman was six days ago rather than half a year.

Jim Dickson and Ron Keeley are working together remarkably well and a more fluid engine room you'd be hard pressed to find. The thought occurs that Pip Hoyle's on-stage wardrobe is well established for these tours (black shirt, Birdman cap, red tie and Radios badge) which must make him fabulously easy to shop for at Christmas. There's plenty of him in the mix - par for the course when Trev is mixing - and he comes to the fore on a magnificent "Love Kills" and soaring "Alien Skies". The latter's been a regular element in Deniz Tek Group brackets so it's welcome to hear it breaking up the set.

Despite some pre-tour speculation (apparently bourbon-fuelled), a slew of Birdman live obscurities (like "Insane Alive") doesn't make it onto the playlist. Of the lesser-lights, the Masters Apprentices' "Buried and Dead" and "Transmaniacon MC" from the Blue Oyster Cult remain in the bracket, though there's no room for "Waitin' for the Man" and "Stray Cat Blues". What does bob up at encore time is "Cold Turkey" and it's as intense and loaded as it gets. Likewise, "Dark Surprise" gives the band a little space for the beginnings of some jams (which, by all accounts, will be properly explored the following night in Canberra).

OK, we're biased around these parts but...maybe it's the layoff between shows or the relatively short preparation (two rehearsals) involved, but there's something comfortably familiar yet fresh about Radio Birdman, circa 2002. A third of the way through, Deniz likens the band to an old car: "You have to kick it to get it started and you don't really get going until you warm it's getting warmed up now". There's the very occasional minor backfire but the juggernaut's firing on all cylinders by the time "New Race", "Aloha..." and "You're Gonna Miss Me" signal the waving of the chequered flag. Nothing chequered about the show. Pure octane, no ethanol additive. - The Barman