Crest Hotel, Sylvania
June 27, 2003

The Gaelic Club, Sydney
June 28, 2003

These were the final shows of a brief, five-date Australian tour by Deep Reduction and the tragic thing seemed to be that most people weren't asking who Deep Reduction were - they weren't asking anything at all. A show in Newcastle and two in "Rock City" Melbourne were largely unattended. (The latter was a real surprise after a full-page feature story in that city's broadsheet daily newspaper, The Age).

On the back of that (lack of) reaction down south, the omens didn't look good for Sydney, with the only significant pre-show press being buried in the inner-pages of a street press give-away. There's also the fact that Radio Birdman gigs occur every couple of years, so the novelty factor is thin on the ground.

In case you're not aware, Deep Reduction is the Austra-American band fronted by Radio Birdman co-founders Deniz Tek and Rob Younger. Coming together as a studio project when Deniz produced an album for Pennsylvania band the Stump Wizards, it's since yielded a single and two albums, the Australian run being to mark the local release of the latter on the esteemed Citadel label. The current configuration finds Jim Dickson (of too many bands to name, but lately Radio Birdman among the credits) on bass, Tek and Younger on guitar and vocals respectively and U.S.-based Jonathan Sipes on guitar and Clyde McGeary on drums.

This was the first time Deniz and Rob had worked together on any substantial project , outside the confines of Radio Birdman, since 1981's New Race tour. That superb assault on Australian pubs was promoted as a one-off event, and played to more people than Birdman had during their entire career to date. Twenty-two years later and we're looking for some sort of event status to be attached to this tour.

Deniz and Rob harmonize.

On the strength of the Sylvania gig, Deep Reduction would build a healthy live following if they were a regular on the local gig circuit. It's a moot point because commitments of individual members (Sipes and McGeary have day jobs back in the States) don't allow that luxury, but this is something pretty special.

After just two pre-tour rehearsals, the band sounds fresh and remarkably tight. Jonathan Sipes is a terrific foil to The Iceman, grinding out a solid bedrock with a hollow body guitar through a dirty Marshall rig. Deniz takes the opportunity to play some slide and even wheels out a harmonica solo (two things the strictures of Birdman's back catalogue don't permit). Clyde McGeary's drumming is full of feel and power with minimal unnecessary flash. Jim Dickson's warm and supple bass playing fills the spaces like few others. And Rob Younger's familiar vocals (he was only brought in on the second album) suit the material to a tee.

Jonathan Sipes and Jim Dickson in action.

Most of the set is from "2" with the single, the Tek-sung "Black Tulip", a welcome adornment. The opening shot is a squaling "Two Words" and when Younger emits the line "Let's Rock" there's a degree of certitude that this is indeed what DeepRed will do. "Creosote", with its bleak images of trans-border incursions in the desert, is a stand-out. "Novotel Blues" is the most Birdmanish thing in the set and is ripped out with gusto. A stirring cover of the Velvets' "Rock and Roll" is delivered with grace and style.

I saw New Race did the Visitors' "Sad TV" in this same room in '81 - but they never took that song the places it goes tonight. It morphs into "Break On Through to the Other Side" before detouring to the Animals' "Talking 'Bout You". Visitors singer Mark Sisto is on hand and clearly approves.

Recent Bar interviewee Jonathan Sipes takes the microphone for the Sipes/McGeary-penned "Flat Sea" towards the end of the set and it's another winner. He's also easily the best-dressed person in the venue (though Rob's thrift store shirt and Deniz's white pimp shoes also score in the sartorial elegance stakes). There's no Schlitz in sight so Jonathan has to make do with a Crown Lager, post-show, and reveals his wife (who played keyboards in The Omega Men) almost made it down for the shows as an additional member of the band. The addition of keyboards to the sound makes for an intriguing "what if?'

Don't ask me about tonight's support, the Sneekers. I only caught their last song. Sylvania's stage sound makes life difficult for the band who appear a little tense because of it.

Saturday night is another matter. There's a more substantial crowd in, and the oddly-shaped, high-ceilinged room looks more full. They're a Tooheys-on-tap bar only, but life's never perfect. Riffter turn in a short but punchy set, the tail end of which I manage to catch.


Stew Cunningham and Ashley Thomson get rocked.

Roll Cage are second support and rip through songs from their debut album and a few destined for the next. The Bar's own John McPharlin gets namedropped in the introduction to "Getting Out of Prison" (I never knew Ashley Thomson and he were on such close terms - now what's Aussie for "jail bitch"?) and a jagged cover of Acca Dacca's "Hi-Voltage" sits nicely. "Bris Vegas" and the closing "The Best Looking Women on William Street (Are Men)" remain personal faves. The set's such a blast that guitarist Stew Cunningham reckons he might stick around on a more permanent basis. Good news.

DR's set closely replicates the previous night's but the show's a notch tighter. "Sad TV" quotes the Doors as well "Who Do You Love?" (and "Busy Body"? Memory fails me sometimes). Tonight's cover of "Whips and Furs" (one of the best things on the first, self-titled DR album) is full of energy. "Last Flight of the Owl" doesn't lack much for the absence of a 12-string guitar.

There's lots of room for relaxed stage repartee and everyone's clearly enjoying themselves, with Deniz playing up Rob's publicly under-exhibited, guitar-playing credentials. J. Sipes lives up to the Dr Tek wrap of him being the band's "fashion consultant" by sporting the sharpest pair of Cubans I've seen (probably since my own fell apart a few years ago).

Do you call it (like most things seem to be, these days) garage music? There's an undeniable '60s influence at play. Let's just call it damn fine rock and roll. If you passed up the opportunity to catch them, you're all the poorer. They probably won't be back this way for a while. - The Barman