Prince of Wales Hotel, St Kilda
Friday, 17 February, 2006

Photo by RICHARD SHARMAN of Blackshadow Photography

The spectre of Birdman appeared in Melbourne again this weekend; a Friday night show at the Prince of Wales in St Kilda, and a Saturday night gig at Ruby’s in the outer suburb of Belgrave (home to the tourist Mecca that is Puffing Billy).  We contemplated the logistics of travelling to Ruby’s, then realised it’d take a packed lunch, compass and a departure time too early for comfort.  So it was off over the Yarra to the once seedy world of St Kilda. 

We arrived at the gig Prince of Wales tonight too late to see the Double Agents, but in time to see most of Brisbane band Giants of Science in full swing.  There are a few Giants of Science fans around the place making noises about the band’s commitment to rock’n’roll (I think it has been alleged on the Bar that Giants of Science are Australia’s best band). 

Despite playing to a crowd that was there to see the next instalment in the Birdman myth, the Giants of Science played a very invigorating set.  There was plenty of rock with a garage edge – illustrated by a Sonic’s Rendezvous Band cover and The Stooges’ Down On the Street – and some good ol’ fashioned bluesish stoner rock.  And you’ve got to admire an all male rock band that decides to do a cover of the Eurythmics/Aretha Franklin female liberation anthem Sisters (Are Doing It For Themselves).  “Best Band in Australia” is a bold statement – but I’d certainly put Giants of Science in my list of notable contenders for the title.

Radio Birdman appeared on stage around 11pm, doing their characteristic enigmatic, but purposeful saunter onto stage, a few choice welcoming words from Rob Younger and a rip roaring version of Burn My Eye.  With his classic rock appearance – black t-shirt and black jeans – Younger remains the man who didn’t ask to be born – crouching over his microphone stand, staring vacantly into the audience space, his moves not nearly as frenetic as 30 years ago yet it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. 

Deniz Tek thrashes his white Epiphone like there’s no tomorrow, while Chris Masuak merely stands and delivers.  On bass Jim Dickson looks more the suburban everyman who you’d expect to find mowing the nature strip on a Sunday afternoon than a bass guitarist extraordinaire with a rock heritage as long as your arm. 

On drums Rusty Hopkinson seems to have a better fit with the band’s sound since the band’s previous Melbourne gig, his style very different to original Ron Keeley but just as effective.  On keyboards – clad in a bright red shirt but sans trademark beret – Pip Hoyle appeared his usual stiff Teutonic self, and is still the most distinctive looking man in rock’n’roll.

The set drew heavily from the band’s excellent back catalogue – "Anglo Girl Desire", "Smith and Wesson Blues", "Alone in the Endzone", "I-94", "Breaks My Heart", "Do the Pop!", "Non Stop Girls", "What Gives?" – and a fair smattering of new material.  The new material held its own without a problem; some New Christs-ish darker stuff, a a bunch of tunes built around Deniz Tek’s trademark blues rock riffs and a lighter surf-pop tune from Pip Hoyle.  I tried to procure the set list, but never got a chance (the POW stage staff are notoriously eager in removing the set lists).  I do, however, remember that “Connected” hit the spot particularly well. 

The first bracket concluded with the crowd pleasing "Aloha Steve and Danno", before the band returned with a couple more new songs and the rousing "New Race".  A second encore – always a good thing, and always a happy event for the lucky punters – comprised the Stooges’ Search and Destroy and another newbie, "Locked Out". 

At 1am we jumped on our bikes and began the long (but very pleasant) journey back to the inner north of Melbourne, time to dodge traffic and marvel at another great Birdman show.  Last time I saw Birdman I felt a little let down; this time there were no such reservations.

Radio Birdman’s original decision to reform in 1996 was a very courageous decision.  The band’s decision to write and record a new album (due out in the middle of this year) might be considered foolhardy – but based on tonight’s performance there’s still plenty of life left in Radio Birdman.