The Handsome One contemplates Ross the Boss' fretwork.

Saturday, August 24, 2002
@ the Crest Hotel, Sylvania

Words and Pictures: JOHN McPHARLIN

This is the Dictators' third Sydney show. I missed last night's biggie at the Metro because I wanted to catch the Chevelles at the Vic on the Park (first time back in Sydney in six years, so who knows when they'll be back here again).

Once again I'm early (shit, is this turning into a habit now?), so I treat myself to a pretty indifferent veal parmagiana from the Crest's carvery and a couple of beers to follow it down and sit on its chest (Gawd bless you Raymond Chandler!). By the time I'm finished, they've set up the cash register at the door to the performance area and the first punters are going through. I'm not fast enough to catch up with the Barman as he passes through from the typical beer barn ambience into the heart of rock nirvana, so I approach this evening's door bitch with great trepidation. However there's no hint of trouble with the guest list this time. "I don't have the list yet, but I know you're on it", she says. Now that's the spirit!

Inside, the Casanovas are warming up and the usual faces are drifting in, like all three of the original Hard Ons, the former 300 St Claire rhythm section (which is now the Lowdorados rhythm section), the Upsets' Tony Harper, the Killer Klowns' Darren Trew and Bill Gibson back again for more punishment.

While we're waiting I chat with Paul Larsen, the Rifles' drummer (as if you'd be reading this and not know that). He tells me that the basic tracks for the Rifles' new album are now laid down, the guitarists are doing some fiddling with their bits and Damien's fine tuning the lyrics, then they'll mix it and look for a label to release it. Strangely it seems that no one's leaping on them waving fat cheque books and trying to thrust contracts into their hands, despite the fierce artistic and critical success of the last album.

The Casanovas rock out.

Our conversation ends prematurely when the Casanovas fire up in earnest. They're another power trio from Melbourne and like all big riffin' Melbourne power trios they adopt the regulation bow legged stance, which indicates either that they're poseurs or else they have testicles the size of cricket balls. To keep a long story short, greatness has been promised and greatness is delivered; perhaps they really do have testicles the size of cricket balls. Oh and there's something about a nice pair of white shoes, too.

Since the last time I was here (back in April for Spy v Spy), they've added crash barrier to keep the audience separate from the bands. Only unlike the steel mesh barrier at the Metro (and the temporary barriers at the Annandale and the Corner Hotel in Melbourne), these barriers are the sort normally reserved for roadworks. I can't help thinking that they've been nicked for the evening from the site of a local RTA road repair in progress and out in some nearby street there's a large hole slowly filling up with cars and their stunned drivers.


Rifleman Kent Steadman goes into overdrive.

Again tonight the Celibate Rifles start with "Let's Do It Again", but only about 30 percent of the repertoire from Thursday is repeated. Perhaps not to be outdone by these young blow ins from Melbourne, they picked up the pace from the previous show, throwing in "Netherworld", "Downtown", "Johnny" and a hammering "Ice Blue". "Contemplating R.D. Laing (And The Bird Of Paradise)" also gets a run, doubtless with the traditional Boxing Day extravaganza somewhere in the back of the mind, since "Heaven On A Stick" will be the featured album this year (personally I can't wait - how long has it been since they've played "Dream Of Night"?)

Damien Lovelock stalks the stage.

If last night was businesslike, then tonight takes professionalism to a new level. They end with "Chinese Rocks", followed by "I Shoulda" and "Electravision Mantra". "Chinese Rocks" is dedicated to the Dictators despite the problems it created when they dedicated it to Blondie a few years ago - obviously the Dictators have a better perspective on things so there's no misunderstanding this time (apparently some members of Blondie took it not as an honest celebration of Noo Yawk punk, but as a personal dig at the band's own drug problems during its first tour of Australia).

Towards the end of the set, Mike Couvret does something serious to his little finger - that's serious as in take me to the casualty department of the nearest hospital! From where I'm standing there seems to be blood and it's bent at a very strange angle. Looks bad. Except instead of getting someone to take him to casualty, he calls for the gaffer tape, binds up his finger and completes the last song of the set. I for one stare in awe and amazement.

Some years ago, while exploring the question "Are You Man Enough?", Dennis Leary said that real men, true macho men were "made out of leather. My dad was one of these men. My dad once cut off his thumb with a power saw, duct-taped it back on and drove himself to the hospital smoking a Camel un-filtered on the way". Having witnessed his contributions to the Rifles on and off over the years, I don't think there's ever been much doubt that Michael Couvret is also such a man, but now we have irrefutable evidence.

And then it is time for the Dictators again and, well more of the same really. Sure it has been shuffled into a different order and odd songs have been dropped in favour of others, "In The Presence of a New God" sadly making way for "Next Big Thing" for starters (like the latter, love the former), but it's like the previous evening never came to an end. No "The Party Starts Now" either this time; it's made way for "New York, New York" and "Haircut and An Attitude", but the audience is embarked on a party of its own from the moment the 'Tators step onto the stage and doesn't seem to notice. For their part, once out of the blocks the 'Tators roar through the set like they've been resting up in readiness for a week, not like they've just played two equally ball tearing shows on the previous two nights. By my watch it's ten past one when they finish.

Andy Shernoff lays it down.

There was certainly some rowdiness in the audience, which increased as time went on and clearly made the bouncers very nervous, but nothing compared to the Fishos show (obviously that prick doesn't like to travel south of the harbour, although I did see him on one of the Rifles' cruises a while ago). My camera seeking nemesis is there, but mercifully the press of the crowd between us prevents him from getting anywhere near the lens of my camera, let alone in front of it, on this occasion. One guy tries to haul himself up onto the barrier, but his grip slips and he falls heavily on his nuts, grimacing extravagantly in pain. It may have hurt him, but the bouncer who has been keeping a watchful eye on him is so amused he actually stops chewing his gum long enough for a smile to work its way briefly across his face.

Since practically any song in their repertoire is strong enough to be used for an encore, it doesn't matter which order they play them in, they still end up with an all killer, no filler set, although they do use "Two-Tub Man" for the encore once again (it's not on the setlist either, so I guess they weren't taking anything for granted). Whatever. No one in the band is showing any sign that the pace is taking its toll, despite this being the third night in a row of no holds barred rock action. Handsome Dick is all over the stage (let's face it, he owns the stage), all over the barrier and even out into the audience, much to the obvious discomfort of the bouncers (boy, I'll bet it's not like this on Crowded House tribute night).

I actually managed to secure a setlist this time, thanks to the Rifles' roadie Mick Poole, who for his pains was jumped by a bouncer as he tried to hand it to me after the show. Somehow this bouncer had failed to notice Mick running around looking after the Rifles' equipment during the Rifles' set and refused to believe Mick (or Bill Gibson and myself, when we spoke up for him) that he was actually entitled to be on the stage now, clearing away the last of the band's equipment.

It was an interesting tussle. This bouncer was built like the proverbial brick shithouse, but fairly short for a career in crowd control. Mick on the other hand is pretty tall and looks deceptively slight for a bloke who spends a lot of his time humping heavy sound equipment into and out of vans and up onto and down off of stages.

It seemed that nothing was going to dissuade the bouncer from his determination to stuff Mick back over the barricade onto the audience side, except perhaps the laws of physics. This guy had obviously put a lot of effort into weight training, but hadn't had quite so much practice in wrestling with weights that didn't want to be lifted and understood a bit about leverage. At the beginning, when he had the advantage of surprise, he almost succeeded in getting Mick clear off the ground, but Mick's a wiry bugger who wasn't about to go willingly and some pretty broad physical (and farcical) comedy ensued. At the same time as I was laughing my arse off, I felt undeniable tinges of guilt, since it was trying to help me out with setlist that got him into this position in the first place.

Fortunately another bouncer came along and gave the first bouncer the word before things got really ugly. I know a roadie's life must be a tough one at the best of times, but poor Mick seems to be doing it particularly tough lately, what with this and that drunk falling out of the air conditioning duct onto his head during the Rifles' gig at the Northpoint Tavern...

Afterwards, I was treated to the most bizarre display of xenophobic racism imaginable out in the car park, courtesy of some drunken ocker who had obviously just been ejected by the bouncers, some of whom were persons of colour (mainly Pacific Islanders I think). Barely pausing for breath as he screamed abuse and threats (from a very safe distance, I couldn't help noticing), he managed to keep going for the entire time it took for me to walk from the front door across the car park, get in my car and drive away. Lots of "f" this and "f" that and you "f-ing c" and "me and my fifth generation Aussie mates are going to wipe you f-ing wog scum off the face of the earth" (yep, that's pretty much verbatim from one of his more coherent outbursts).

Coincidentally, Killer Klowns guitarist Darren Trew has reported being jostled at the foot of the Metro stage the night before, by some superannuated Oi punk who took exception to Handsome Dick's prominent star of David and switched instantly from enjoying the show to shouting racist abuse once he noticed it. As the Dictators themselves would say, "What's Up With That?". For those who weren't racist turds, it was still a bloody good night (every night in fact).

How many beers do I rate this? As many as you can carry mate - just watch out for the breathalyzer on the way home!