December 8, 2009

Sandringham Hotel, Newtown, Sydney
Friday, December 4, 2009

Words and pictures: THE BARMAN

As long as I live I bet I never hear the New Christs do a Xmas song. That off-beat thought occurred as (paid) work built up in the run to the Festive Season, putting a dampener on exta-curicular activities, while a few tunes of the Yuletide variety coincidentally started buzzing around the Bar.

On that note, it was with an expectant ear and minimal good cheer on-board for a Friday night (hey, I was driving), I made the shortish journey to the re-vamped upstairs band room at the venerable Sando where all the talk's been about a so-named "pay to play" policy and a non-existent air-conditioning system.

First, the "pay to play rule". Skip this par if you bore easily. It involves weekend bands achieving an agreed threshold of paying punters or being penalised hundreds of dollars. Whether this is waived if a band's two or three people short is unclear. The point is that it's not a "production charge" but a penalty - and this is where the rubber hits the road.

Sure, the venue's invested a shitload of dollars in a new PA, but capital costs can be depreciated over a tax year. Investing in a sound system is "cost of entry" if you're going to book entertainment to attract paying customers to drink your beer. So where recouping the cost of a sound operator stops, and a pub starts imposing charges that ultimately costs them goodwill, is is fertile ground for debate. It's only logical that if every venue did this, there'd be no live bands.

I want to see this new room thrive as much as anyone - it's potentially the equal of Annandale - but penalty clauses should only be invoked if someone's done something wrong. Not buying an ad in the street press to plug a gig should not be regarded as such. Let's be pragmatic and book bands that'll draw and face the fact that some of them won't.

Onto the other side issue: the air-con - or lack thereof on three previous occasions I've been inside the new Sando room. The place was a sauna with constant 35 degree heat and 90-something percent humidity. I'm delighted to say that the air-con unit has arrived and that it was cold as a Reserve Bank board member's breath on the day of an interest rise when I walked in at 10.25pm, wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

So, Sydney, you have a great sounding new room and it's now very comfortable. Get out and support it.

Better Siberia than Singapore but I'm writing this with frostbitten fingers and pneumonia. If Rob Younger was issuing a frosty glare when he took the stage it was probably meant for the guy in the Hitmen T-shirt (not me - I was smart and wore Died Pretty!)

It had been a long time between Newie shows for me for a variety of reasons and I was stoked to see that reports of the band's growth in confidence and scope were no exaggeration. Can I stop writing reviews urging the recalcitrant, stupid and downright lazy among you who don't catch them when you can to pull your fingers out? No, so let's move on.

It was a well-blended set with a strong focus on "Gloria" and "We Got This" material. Messrs Kettley and Williams were not so much clinical on guitars as sure-footed and unwavering. They've pushed a few songs in different directions here and there, and most are stronger for the treatment.

Jim Dickson is unstoppable on bass. Is there a guy who digs his on-stage job as much? Probably not and his enthusiasm is both palpable to the audience and infectious to bandmates. Tonight is no exception.

Stu Wilson reckoned I was a bit impassive leaning off to one side of the stage, and he had a good view from his drum riser. I swear it's the sobriety and $3K of borrowed camera around my neck and no diffidence was intended. God knows, being laid-back is the last charge you could level back at him.

As good as the show was, it only got better when "Like A Curse" got spat out. It's always had a special place for old fans but this line-up's picked it up, dusted it off and given it new legs. The fair-sized crowd that's in tonight near took the roof off when it was thrown their way. "I Swear" and "We Got This" are similarly treated with decisive riff-work pushing the songs along like steamrollers. If it gets much better than this, drop me a line and tell me where.

"The Black Hole" has often been just that for various NC line-ups. Well do I remember a Sutherland Royal show where Charlie Owen near demolished a cabinet when his malfunctioning amp head denied him that sustained wail of feedback to carry the song. Tonight, it seems to be coaxed along a little too fast instead of being allowed to uncoil, but that just means it was a very good version instead of unearthly.

Word is the next New Christs show (and last for 2009) at the Surry Hills Excelsior on December 20 will be two sets leaning strongly towards covers. Sounds like big fun - shades of the Younger-fronted '60s Brit covers project Nanker Phelge - and an early Xmaspresent. Don't hold your breath for "Deck The Halls".