Deep Reduction
Roll Cage
Riffter
Gaelic Club, Sydney
Saturday June 28, 2003

Words and Pictures:
JOHN McPHARLIN

John "Mad" Mack plays guitar in the Onyas. That may or may not be significant to you, but at 7:30 this evening I couldn't for the life of me remember his name or the band he plays in. I could remember that he'd been up here from Melbourne recently for a couple of one off gigs (a two off? a pair off?) with the Egos... I even remembered that I'd gone to one of those shows, but beyond that it was all a complete mystery. This sort of occurrence is worrying and maybe I'm being paranoid, but it seems like I've been having more of them lately (ironically, if I could just forget that I keep having these blank spells, then it would cease to be a worry).

What's any of this got to do with the 3 "Rs" (Rifter, Roll Cage and Reduction of the Deep variety) you ask? Well, I had been under the misapprehension that Roll Cage were going on first this evening, which prompted me to make a special effort to get to the venue early (that and the fact that there were no freebies on offer tonight and I hadn't managed to get in to town to buy a ticket during the week).

I was so early in fact that when I got there I could see at once that the doors weren't even open yet, so I just sauntered past the small group already huddled expectantly outside and hit the pub on the corner. I was still in the process of paying for my beer ($5.55 for a Coopers Green, pretty damn steep for a front bar!) when Carl Ekman appeared at my side, followed by the rest of the bunch I'd just snubbed, unwittingly I assure you, as I assured him, outside the Gaelic Club.

Carl graciously overlooked my grievous social faux pas without a hint of condemnation and, as blokes do when they've got a beer in their hand and time to kill, we got down to exploring some of those momentous and eternal questions of philosophy, like why didn't Radio Birdman ever become at least as big as AC/DC and why isn't Rob Younger at least as famous as Iggy Pop (the quality of his record releases over the past 20 years has been far more consistent for starters), etc.

Somehow we got on to the subject of the Egos and I could remember Johnny Casino's name and imposing presence, but who the fuck was the other guitarist? In the end I had to put it down as just another alzheimer moment (Al Zheimer, didn't he play in Canned Heat?). Of course Carl couldn't remember his name either (John's name that is, not his own, although if you've ever caught Carl at the end of a really hard night... but I do digress), so it's not like I was an orphan in the amnesia stakes, but it was a worry nevertheless.

Carl, on the other hand, was far less worried, or at least his worries were more financial than mental and then only transitory at that. With his car currently off the road until he can afford some crucial repairs, he'd been forced to come into town by train, which meant as a consequence that he didn't have to fret about playing breathalyzer lotto with the local constabulary on the way home (although a bloke where I work decided to take cabs to and from a booze up a while ago and still ended up spending a night in the cells after an altercation with the cabbie on the way home, so simply leaving the car at home isn't necessarily the universal panacea that it's so often cracked up to be).

I couldn't help thinking at the time that Carl's current predicament was exactly the same as the situation he sang about in the Hunchbacks' "Let It Roll" (opening song on the "Rockin' Chair" album, reviewed here quite favourably many moons ago); well, not exactly the same - in that instance he was stuck on the trains because he couldn't afford to renew the rego on his car. Either way it's a concern that can be eased readily by judicious application of alcohol in appropriate medicinal quantities and that's the approach Carl was taking.

That was then, this is now. Now I remember. If I had Carl's phone number I'd ring him up and tell him. Given that it's 3am (3:07 actually), he probably wouldn't thank me, but I have to tell someone so I'm telling you. Why? As in why am I telling you and/or why am I up this late? The answer to both questions is because my ears are still ringing from the Deep Reduction show earlier this evening (well, yesterday evening now) and I'm still too wired to sleep.

Once the doors opened, we all repaired to the Gaelic Club, where the beer was at club prices - NOT ($5.80 for a Coopers Green, stuff me sideways with a large market vegetable)! There followed the usual loitering with intent until Riffter got going, the lengthy wait enlivened by the arrival of that other Roll Cage absconder Ned Alphabet, who was keen to take up the subject of Michael Moorcock's non S&S output, following on from the "King of the City" review a few months ago (or at least my opinionated collection of half-baked ramblings passing itself off as a review). Then suddenly conversation became impossible.

You want to find a good way to bury your face in a major slab of aural mayhem? Just give a bunch of guitar hoons an audience, a few beers and a state of the art sound system (which the beer prices are doubtless helping to pay for, either that or they're funding some lucky third world country's international debt repayments).

Riffter used to be Shifter, but had to change their name due to a clash with some other band who reckoned they were Shifters first. At least that's the way it was told to me by someone who claimed to know (whaddaya want, enthusiasm or in depth research, accuracy and journalistic integrity?). Their set was impressive in an overwhelming, "big block rock" kinda way; a bit too full for garage, tending more towards AC/DC hard rock in cinemascope. You wouldn't tag them "stadium rock" in style, but they certainly made enough noise to fill a good size stadium.

After the usual intermission for changing over the equipment, Roll Cage started off with a subdued rendition of "Blow Job Queen" before taking a tour of the hedonistic delights of "Brisvegas", by the end of which Ashley had the bit firmly between his teeth and the band was slotted in easily behind him, taking advantage of his slipstream. After his brief absence at Easter, this gig marked the permanent return of Scott Armstrong on drums, albeit on a stripped down drum kit (dunno what the story behind that was, but he got more out just a couple of drums than a lot of poseurs sometimes get out of a roomful of percussion).

Also making a welcome return to the Roll Cage ranks was local guitar luminary Stewart "Leadfinger" Cunningham. The sight (and sound) of Stew on stage and with his red strat in his hands is the "vision splendid" of someone standing exactly where he belongs and the inevitable result was serious garage action (by coincidence, I bumped into bass player Sabina Collins at another gig recently and she assured me that they are a true garage band - lacking the necessary funds to subsidize the rental of space in a rehearsal studio, they really do rehearse in Ashley's garage).

For any Oz rocker with a sense of history, supporting a band featuring both Rob Younger and Deniz Tek is about as good as it gets and Ashley was clearly enjoying every moment. Of course Ashley wouldn't be Ashley if he didn't dish out a few back handers to the audience at the same time.

When the now departed Ned Alphabet first joined Roll Cage, Ashley introduced him to the audience as, "Ned, for the benefit of those of you who haven't already met him in prison...". Tonight he had a new prison song and decided that he needed to induct a new inmate into the Roll Cage convict canon, for which purpose he picked on some mug he knew out of the crowd - me. Somehow it seemed a lot funnier when it was happening to Ned...

Shit, I go out for a quiet night (well, a loud night really) to see a band and I come home with a prison record and a reputation for being the darling of Cellblock H. Thanks a bunch Ash! It does seem though that there's room for a difference of opinion here. M'learned colleague Mr Sharman thought it was still pretty funny, but then he wasn't the one being pictured bending over in the shower for the soap, though one can certainly conjecture that surely his turn in the barrel must eventually come.

Speaking of Richard Sharman, it was a practically a full house as far as the I-94 Bar staff were concerned, with Simon Li and the Barman also in attendance, though Ken Shimamoto once more fell victim to the tyranny of distance (rest assured, there was at least one toast to "absent friends" in your honour mate). Simon was also deputized by Ashley to record the Roll Cage set on his digital movie camera (following my unmitigated fuck up with Ashley's camera at the Roll Cage record launch last year, it's obvious that I'm never going to be trusted to do anything of that nature on his behalf ever again...).

There was also a passing parade of famous and familiar faces, like former Whammo/Waterfront owner-operator Frank Cotterell, peripatetic drummer Murray Shepherd (who according to informed sources turned up in London a couple of days later for the first of several shows with the Monarchs), assorted former New Christs from differing line ups including Al Creed and Peter Kelly, Dr Pip Hoyle (from a band that should need no introduction to even the most casual visitor to this watering hole) and Mark Sisto (again), to name but a few that I remember. Just a normal Saturday night in Sydney surrounded by your average bunch of Oz/Detroit living legends...

If Roll Cage is true garage, then Deep Reduction is quintessential garage. Tonight the band were more relaxed than last night and since they weren't having to strain to hear each other this time, all their energy was going into what was coming out of the speakers. Sure garage is supposed to be raw and basic, urgent and strained, the work of enthusiastic amateurs, but at its core this is what it's always been trying to sound like. Still raw and basic, still urgent, but anything except amateur and strained - don't try this at home, these men are professionals.

Last night might have been a lesson in rock'n'roll history, with appropriate practical demonstrations, but this was the honours class. With the onstage monitors working as they should, the P.A. banks either side of the stage definitely adequate for the task ahead and everybody dressed for action (particularly Jonathan Sipes who looked even more than ever like he was ready to audition for the next Austin Powers movie), it was a case of let's party like it's... 1969.

Strangely there was no sign on either night of that legendary white Epiphone that used to belong to Fred Smith, though Deniz did alternate between a much newer looking tan one and a white strat as the evening wore on (and doubtless the chance to play either instrument would have launched your average late '60s garage punk straight into the heart of seventh heaven). Ultimately though, it ain't about whatcha got, it's about whatcha do with it and what Deep Reduction do is to drag it out on to the stage, whip it into a frenzy and then beat it back into submission. One thing's for sure: in "Midnight Rambler" Mick Jagger might have sung "Well, honey, it's no rock'n'roll show...", but he definitely wasn't thinking about Deep Reduction in all their glory at the time.

The only aspect of the Gaelic Club (or "Gay Lick" Club, as Ashley likes to refer to it) that leaves something to be desired is the lighting (well there's two things really, if you count the beer prices, but I've already had my whinge on that topic). Sure there's heaps of lights at the back of the stage, illuminating the band from behind and shining out into the audience, but there's stuff all in front of the stage to illuminate the musicians' faces. This forced me to use the flash much more than I'd wish, but there was no other way to catch the action even if it did leave them all looking like prison escapees caught in the act by the perimeter search lights.

Not only that, with no dancing loony to keep the dance floor area clear, the crowd was quickly right up to the foot of the stage, so it was a case of grab a spot and then be stuck with it for the rest of the night. Of course there are plenty of worse spots to be stuck in, but there's no reason why you can't wish to have it all. Certainly the band had no such concerns where they were, Mr Younger alternatively swapping banter with the audience and the band ("You should hear what they're saying up here", he told one punter).

If there were set lists around this evening then they were being kept well out of my light-fingered grasp, so I'm forced to admit that I'm not sure now if they played "Bring Me In" tonight or not. I've certainly been humming it to myself for the last 20 minutes ("Outside in the cold/Forty below/Sold out with the rest of them/Had to take it with the best of them/Wanna come in..."), but maybe I'm just having some sort of brain snap. I'm starting to think I should keep all my favourite CDs next to the player so that when my memory finally goes altogether I can discover them anew... day after day.

Passing by the merchandize stand towards the end of the evening, I found that surprisingly they did have some tee shirts in my size (that being the ultra big bastard size) and despite the fact that I never wear them (no top pocket to put my pencil and bus pass in), I found myself carried away in the moment and ended up buying one anyway. "Extra, extra large" was dead right too! I could practically get away with wearing it as a dress (well, a rather risqué mini skirt anyway - now there's an image to haunt your nightmares for months to come), provided I remembered to tug the hem down occasionally. In the privacy of my own cell, padded or otherwise, I can wear it however I like as I listen to the Deep Reduction albums over and over again... Or maybe I'll just put it aside until the warden throws another one of his cocktail parties in the sex offenders security wing...

As Mr Younger sings so persuasively in "Two Words": "Hell sucks, Let's Rock!"

Beer rating:

(definitely better than last night and a highlight of my year so far, whether Dr Tek agrees this time or not - hopefully I won't be forgetting too much more of this one in a hurry).

 

 

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