Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Friday, June 15, 2007
WORDS: Patrick Emery
PICTURES: Richard Sharman of Blackshadow Photography
Mid-way through the Celibate Rifles' set, Rifles lead singer Damien Lovelock took a moment to thank the Cosmic Psychos for the opportunity to play on the same bill. In his characteristic northern beach nasal tone Lovelock adds, by way of subtle reference to the tragic events of last year, " ... the Psychos have gone to amazing lengths to avoid playing with us". It's a typically droll Lovelock observation, and just enough to remind the crowd of the sombre tone that loiters in the background.
It's been almost two years since the Rifles played in Melbourne, but it seems like 10 times that long. The Celibate Rifles are Australian surf rock royalty, a model of artistic precision and political integrity. Five guys who seem like they're engaging in a perennial high school garage band reunion. Audience attention naturally converges on the weathered features of Damien Lovelock. Forget Les Murray and those pretentious ponces who frequent wanky literary magazines (not to mention the various colourful characters one encounters on the streets of Australia's capital cities), Damien Lovelock is the real Australian people's poet. And there are his limited dancing skills, a beacon of hope for every white boy shuffling awkwardly in suburban Australia.
On guitar Kent Steedman is probably the only man alive who can wear a ponytail without looking like a wanker (perhaps to ease the visual impact, he's decided not to wear don the lurid leggings tonight), an attribute that only contributes to his legendary, and freakish, status. Steedman's duets with Dave Morris are like watching grown men conducting a blindfolded chainsaw performance piece – the eyes never meet, yet there's a telepathic empathy that's beyond astounding.
On bass, Mikey Couvret is shoeless again, clad in a tank top that makes a mockery of the outside temperature, and with a particular style of mullet (short all over, short blonde flicks at the rear) that reminds me of the coiffure that identified the pretenders at my high school. In that context, drummer Paul Larsen is positively benign, but you wouldn't know from his frantic introduction to the opening tune of the night, Jesus on TV. It's generally frenetic, and ridiculously tight, with moments of transcendental surf rock in areas of the rock'n'roll spectrum only the Rifles know.
The only problem with a Rifles set is that no matter how good it is, there's always something else you wanted them to play – we get Johnny, Killing Time, Sometimes and a finale of Electro Vision Mantra (which rests on the riff Cobain ripped off for Smells Like Teen Spirit), but we still wanted Bill Bonney Regrets, Back in the Red and Thank You America, and more – but there's always next time.
The Cosmic Psychos saunter onto stage around 11.30pm, accompanied by Robbie Watts' eldest son. He's clearly proud to be on stage with the band, but a little unsure of how to behave. A brief acknowledgment and he's off the stage. After what seems an eternity of delay (apparently equipment related), the Psychos pick up wherever they last left off with the anthemic Pub.
Ross Knight is as purposeful as ever, back to the crowd, bass slung low and dangerously. Dean Muller has a flourishing style like few others on the pub rock circuit, a. John McKeering has stepped into some notable shoes, and he's possibly the only person who could do it without accidental fault.
New guitarist John McKeering's wah-wah drenched style is closer to Peter Jones' style than Watts', and his on-stage aesthetic – hang dog expression, jeans hanging down, trainers – turns the anti-rock star concept on its head and drops it forcefully into the stage. Like the Rifles, the Psychos can play a greatest hits package and still eschew some of their best tracks. There's older stuff (Quarter to Three, Lost Cause, Custom Credit) and newer stuff (Drinkin' with the SAS, Dead in a Ditch, 20 Pot Screamer, Goin' to Hell) and ball tearin' riffs and thunderous beats to make grown adults cry with appreciation.
With barely a smirk Knight dedicates the final tune David Lee Roth to Guns 'n' Roses, and matters are concluded for the night. As the band finally leave the stage, each member makes a bee-line for Watts' family, offering hugs that you wouldn't ordinarily expect from a trio of tough guys. It's a testament to the Psychos, past and present, on so many levels.
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