Friday June 27, 2003
The Crest, Sylvania
Words and Pictures:
In his other occupation, apparently Deep Reduction drummer Clyde McGeary is a trucker who hauls toxic waste for a living. Now that's the sort of heavy-duty foundation a band can really build on. If ever there was a drummer who had a more fitting day job, then I can't recall him to mind right at this moment (but I do remember a satirical piece years ago, wherein the Who replaced the late Keith Moon with 100 lbs of "sweaty gelignite", which would certainly have made for a thundering finale; there was also something about a Blue Oyster Cult concert where their laser light show malfunctioned and cut the audience to ribbons, but I do digress and anyway, the sweaty gelignite eventually quit the Who because it wasn't satisfied with the backstage arrangements).
I didn't get to talk to Clyde, but Rob Younger and Jonathan Sipes both came out after the show and mixed with the audience for a while. I tried to ask Jonathan whether it was true that Clyde really does haul toxic waste, but he either didn't hear the question or else chose not to answer (shit, I was practically squealing like a teenage schoolgirl, so it's hardly surprising; besides, if it isn't true then I'd rather not know, because the myth is too cool to relinquish willingly).
Jonathan was more interested in talking about how poor the distribution had been for the original U.S. release of the Deep Reduction CDs and what an improvement it was for the (second) album to have been picked up by Citadel for release here (and everywhere else of course, thanks to the wonders of the internet).
Deniz Tek was hanging out with Mark Sisto (now there's name with a whole lotta legend attached to it), but also spared some time to talk to me about the gig. Funnily enough, he wasn't anywhere near as happy with it as I was, saying that the band couldn't hear each other on stage, which had made playing something of a trial. You coulda fooled me, but then he did have the other gigs leading up to this one to compare it with as well.
Personally, I'd had a great night, although it had gotten off to a fairly shaky start, beginning with the inevitable difficulties getting away from work at a decent time. I was slightly more relaxed about it than usual this time, knowing that the Crest generally opts for a relatively late start, but there was also the important issue of sustenance to be resolved. Bravely I decided to take my chances with the Crest's bistro, but that turned out to be a tactical blunder of the sort where the food quality was the least of my worries.
To start with, there weren't enough tables in the dining room. There had seemed to be some spare places, but once I'd placed my order and been given a numbered card on a stand to place on my table, I turned around to find all the spare tables now taken, so I was forced back in to main bar after doing a forlorn circuit of the dining room carrying the card on its stand before me like a shell shocked refugee with some sad banner of a once proud but now vanquished legion.
Smoking is banned by law in all designated dining areas, but if the venue only sets aside a small dining area (after all, why waste good dinking space on miserable buggers who don't smoke?) and a patron then opts of his own free will to eat in the public bar, where smoking is still permitted since it's not designated as a dining area (not only permitted but apparently mandatory by the look of it), then that's the punter's choice. Yeah, some choice, given that it's damn near impossible to eat a knife and fork meal standing up.
As it turned out there weren't any spare tables in the bar either, so I continued to circulate aimlessly like the flying Dutchman, hoping in vain for a safe harbour. Eventually a table did become free, but those at the next table immediately grabbed all the chairs for their absent and/or expected mates. However, at least I had somewhere to rest my beer and plant my miserable flag while I waited.
Boy did I wait. The meal seemed to be taking forever to emerge from the kitchen, but at least I wasn't alone in my impatient vigil. After about thirty minutes I noticed several other would be diners form what came close to being a lynching party as they angrily fronted the counter for an in depth discussion where the phrase, "Where's my fuckin' meal!?" seemed to feature prominently. I would have loved to join them, but being on my own I didn't dare abandon my hard won position to any of the other sad souls still circling in vain for a table.
As luck would have it, my meal turned up shortly after the uprising at the kitchen counter. Even more timely from my point of view, someone departed from the next table shortly before that and one of the remaining women allowed me to have the vacated chair, although her selfish bitch of a girlfriend was all for hanging on to it on the off chance that someone interesting turned up.
One look at my meal revealed why it had taken so long to arrive - obviously the chef had put it at the back of the oven and then forgotten about it, because it was the blackest veal schnitzel I'd ever seen... I began to wish I'd ordered the seafood basket instead, as a waitress seemed to be endlessly doing the rounds of both the dining room and the bar with one, without finding any willing takers.
Still, there was no point complaining since the guy who'd been before me when the order was placed still hadn't got his meal (and was getting decidedly agitated about it). Anyway the meal was already paid for and I was really hungry now, so I figured I might as well make the most of it and I could always have my stomach pumped later if it turned out to have been a bad decision.
However the universe wasn't through bitch slapping me just yet. I'd no sooner choked down the last morsel than I could hear the distinct sounds of the Sneekers starting up next door. By this time the Barman had arrived, looking very relieved that he's eaten at home first after seeing the state of my meal. He had another mate buying drinks at the bar and so lagged behind me as I dived for the door.
Did I mention that Citadel Records had arranged freebies for the evening? Yep, sometimes we here at the Bar are the beneficiaries of such largess though in my experience it can be a two edged sword, or at least a sharp butter knife with a slippery handle. "I'm on the guest list", I announced to the door bitch. "We don't have a guest list", she responded in a tone which indicated that she'd like to add, "Now fuck off and die", but clearly had been told by the management that she shouldn't keep treating punters that way.
I retreated to confer with the Barman. He was of the opinion that nice Mr Needham would soon sort it out when he arrived, but fuck it, the Sneekers were playing now and it was only seven dollars anyway. I won't pretend that I had any journalistic integrity to protect, but saving money by missing the Sneekers would have been no saving at all. The bitch didn't even smile as she took my money and left it to the bouncer to stamp my wrist.
Last time I heard the Sneekers was through the side wall of the bar at the Fishos at Manly (yep, yet another unhappy door bitch encounter). They still sounded good, though muffled of course, then and they sounded even better now. They were supposed to have had an E.P. out recently, but when I asked them about it after the show they told me that in the end it hadn't happened, because they ran out of money before it was finished. They are now working towards putting out a single in... well, soon. It's been quite a wait.
In fact it's over two and a half years (shit, is it really? where does the time go?) since I first saw them play, wedged in between Mick Medew's Bluebirds and the late, lamented Thermals and I had them pegged then as a power pop band that also knew how to rock it up and belonged up at the tough end of the scale with the likes of Challenger 7 and The Upsets. They haven't done anything since then to make me revise that opinion and tonight just served to reinforce it once again, as they played as sharp a set of geetar music as you could ask for.
Like most support bands, they played to plenty of empty space though, because most punters were only focusing on the main act and either haven't arrived yet or else were still hanging out at the bar (yeah, I know, it's not like I'm really in a position to take the moral high ground on this topic), but like all indie bands who have music they burn to play, indifference is just one more obstacle to be overcome and they didn't let the paucity of punters affect their performance. They played for those select few discerning souls who were there, without any holding back on account of the hordes who weren't.
One who was there, even if not all there, was a frenzied dancer who practically filled the dance floor on his own. I reckon you can tell how much Rob Younger is enjoying a show by how much idiocy he permits from the audience. This audience member gave himself a pretty good work out during the Sneekers' set, but when Deep Reduction got going he went into overdrive (throughout the Sneekers' set it had seemed like he must have been in top gear already, but Deep Reduction definitely fired up his turbo charger for him). This guy only had one basic move, which involved dropping to the dance floor on his back and then flipping his feet around in the air, but he had the seemingly boundless energy necessary to keep doing it all night long.
His other party trick was to keep calling out for old New Christs songs. I guess there's an irony there, in that all through the New Christs' existence Rob had to put up with punters calling out for Radio Birdman songs - seems like some punters are destined ever to be that one step behind. Tonight Rob seemed so happy that it didn't bother him and he was polite but firm in his refusals each time the requests came. The constant calls, particularly for "Born Out Of Time", were met with a shake of head or a calm but resolute "No".
As punters go, fortunately this guy was in the minority, though not completely on his own. At the opposite end of the spectrum, another punter introduced himself to me between sets and said he'd only found out about the tour through the I-94 Bar (looks like we're doing some good for some people then) and he'd had to ask his workmates how to get to the Crest, because he'd never been to this part of Sydney before! He'd also made the two-hour trip up to Newcastle the week before, which puts the rest of us to shame.
And then it was time for the magic to happen. Opening with "Two Words", the first song from the new album (and those two words being "Let's Rock!"), Deep Reduction did indeed rock. I guess anyone who hadn't already heard either of the albums (which would probably have been a lot of the audience, given that the Citadel release had only been out for a couple of days and the original U.S. releases, as already noted, weren't exactly ever widely available), might have come expecting something along the lines of Radio Birdman/New Race. In that event, Deep Reduction could have come as something of a surprise, though hopefully a pleasant one, because where both of those groups were definitely hard rock (and I mean the real hard rock, not that shit they play between the adverts on commercial radio), Deep Reduction is firmly placed in the garage.
I think the easiest way to approach Deep Reduction is to think of the band as having come from a parallel universe where there never was a Radio Birdman. Messrs Tek amd Younger have still managed to meet, but under different circumstances, and though they still have the same influences, the emphasis is different this time around.
For example, on the first album, Jack Chiara's "Downwind Of Yourself" name checked Blue Oyster Cult's "Then Came the Last Days of May". Then in the next song ("Sirius Mood") Tek mentioned the Four Winds Bar, a reference to BOC's "Astronomy". Of course this isn't the first time the threshold of the Four Winds Bar has been crossed in a Tek song, references to it having previously been made in "Life Spill" (Visitors), "Why Tell Me" (Angie Pepper Band) and "Dozen On Ice" (the "Outside" solo album). Doubtless you already knew all of that, but I couldn't help mentioning it anyway (I guess I must be having some sort of geek attack).
Only "Sirius Mood" isn't a hard rock rager, it's a disturbed country blues with even a bit of wailing harmonica (or blues harp as it's known to the cognoscenti apparently) and yet another brief variation of that chord progression that used to turn up everywhere in the seventies, from the Beatles' "Golden Slumbers" to E.L.O. (several times I think) and Focus's "Hamburger Concerto", all of which is a far cry from Birdman's absorption and application of those same BOC influences.
Presumably this is why "Bring Me In" (from the first album) didn't get a run tonight. It's a powerhouse piece of riffarma that sounds like it's an escapee from Tek's "Outside" sessions and it demands to be played with the volume way up (in which requirement I'm always happy to oblige). Not that Deep Reduction isn't prepared to muscle up when the need arises, as it does on the second album in songs like "Big Accumulator" (with its opening distorted reflection of the Mamas & Papas "California Dreaming") or "Still Born", which is so reminiscent of Mr Younger's work with the New Christs that it could have been slipped onto the recent "Woe Betide/Pedestal" reissue without raising too many eyebrows.
I have to admit that I did find that first DR album a bit patchy. To begin with I even thought of it more as a fantastic Deniz Tek solo E.P. with a lot of unnecessary padding, but that's not really doing justice to it (or the other musicians). The second album is a much more even and consistent affair and though through that you do lose the more outre elements (like "Yellow Engine Carcass", which wouldn't have been out of place on Tek's unfairly neglected "Equinox" solo album), you gain in return a more focused compilation of musical ideas and of course the vocal and lyrical participation of Rob Younger.
In fact, the Deep Reduction story is one of continuing renewal, with only Dr Tek and the aforementioned Mr McGeary making the journey all the way from the first single ("Black Tulip", which turns up on the second album in re-recorded form) to the current tour. Early bass player Mike Giblin dropped out after the first album, to be replaced by Jonathan Sipes who then moved to guitar when Jack Chia departed, opening the way for Jim Dickson to join Mr McGeary down in the engine room.
Tonight that journey had brought them here for an evening of music that sounded as intense and driven as the band looked, though obviously some of that look was due to the hearing and communication problems that Deniz mentioned afterwards. At the time though, it wasn't obvious to me. What was obvious was that we were being given a smorgasbord of treats, from the trippy, psychedelic "Question Is" to the ultra garagey "Flat Sea", replete with automotive imagery (or is the chromed machine with the "full tank to go" a speed boat, since we're talking sea here, or is the flat sea a sea of sand and the chromed machine a dune buggy?), to the jangly "Creosote", sounding more than ever like the pre-"Sweetheart Of The Rodeo" Byrds attempting a Visitors cover while they wait for Gram Parsons to turn up.
Throw in both covers from the first album (the Vibrators' "Whips & Furs", sounding more than ever like it might have been written by the Only Ones instead, and Michel Polnareff's "Time Will Tell", though I think the English lyrics are actually at least partly the work of Keith Reid, of "Whiter Shade Of Pale" fame), the Pink Fairies' "City Kids" cover from the second album and Lou Reed's "Rock And Roll" as well and you've got yourself one hell of a parade of rock'n'roll history, not to mention an evening's worth entertainment of biblical proportions.
However it didn't stop there. For their final encore they pulled out "Sad TV" and then inserted into it a medley that included "Break On Through", a snatch of "Suzie Q" and a searchingly interrogative "Who Do You Love". I think there might also have been something else after "Who Do You Love", but I just can't name it now as I sit here typing this. Sorry, my brain must be full. Actually I've been cheating a bit to get this far - I swiped a set list after they left the stage.
In fact I might have crossed the line with that set list, since at that stage it was only the end of the main set and they had yet to play the three songs listed for the encore ("Sirius Mood", with Dr Tek giving a good account of himself on the blues harp, "One Shot Down Under" and the afore mentioned "Sad TV"), but there were only two set lists in sight and some other guy had already swiped one. Since I wanted a souvenir, but I don't wear tee shirts and I already had the album, I wasn't going to stand around while someone else beat me to that set list.
Normally a band doesn't mind punters souveniring a set list, but the proper etiquette is to wait until they've finished playing all the songs on it. I once saw a punter grab a New Christs set list the moment the roadie turned his back after taping it to the stage (before the band had even come out) and that certainly got him into trouble, so I was caught halfway between a shit and a shiver (as my old Grandfather used to say) when the band came back out for the encore, but fortunately they didn't need reminding of what they'd planned to play so my transgression, if not condoned, was at least overlooked this time. And my dinner stayed down as well, so it was a win-win outcome all round for me.
1/2 (but only 'coz Dr Tek insisted afterwards that the band could do better)
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