Saturday, December 6, 2008
By THE BARMAN
You thought you walked a mile in your shoes to make it to Homebake in Sydney on a hot and humid Saturday? Died Pretty played out a bizarre version of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" to perform this, their second and final gig of a brief run of Australian dates.
Drummer Chris Welsh set the pace with a marathon journey from his home in Thailand into Sydney for rehearsals earlier in the week. Political unrest had blocked Bangkok's two main airports (you don't see activists blocking the doorways of ping-pong strip clubs on Pathpong Road - commerce really does rule the roost) so he did a cross-country run to find another jumping off point for a trip that ultimately took 40 hours.
What was a routine Melbourne hit-and-run for the band to play Thursday night's E.G. Awards (the Melbourne Age newspaper's own music awards and mini-hall of fame, wrapped into one) went well enough - until the all-too-familiar Qantas technical problems on Friday turned the return flight into a 12-hour ordeal.
So if the band took a song or two to kick into gear under those heavy Sydney skies amid 35 degree Celsius heat, it was understandable.
So what about Homebake? Let's pause and ruminate. Get it off the chest, even.
You have to wonder about an Australian festival gig that treats rock and roll like a sexually transmitted disease. Died Pretty apart, there's scarcely anything worth seeing on this bill. It's not rock, it's soft cock. Eddy Current Suppression Ring are on at an unseemly early hour so I miss 'em live yet again. You Am I (who apparently do some bizarre rap cross-over thing midway through their set) and some of the lesser-light, Hopetoun Stage acts like Mercy Arms ad Violent Soho were probably worth a peek, but I'd rather have a litre of battery acid poured in my ears than endure the asinine sounds of headliners Crowded House.
Embittered old prick that I am, I time my arrival two beers before Died Pretty (that way I only had to endure a small dose of the overblown End of Fashion) and bail out shortly after. Most festivals suck dogs' balls anyway but I'm fucked if I'll queue for over-priced drinks and portable pissoirs just to be a part of a supposed event where bland rules.
There's a good-sized, ageing but enthusiastic crowd on hand at the Dome Stage when Died Pretty mosey up and onto the stage at 4.30.
Vocalist Ron Peno is luminous in white outfit and battered plantation owner's straw hat, looking like a cross between a Moore Park cricketer who lost his way en route to the crease and a TV gardening show host. But you had to give it to him - it was a practical ensemble in prevailing conditions and the man had not neglected to pack his dancing shoes.
What follows was a glittering set of near-hits and fractional misses that's masterfully delivered. It seems like those break-up shows more than half-a-decade ago never occurred and the band's still a full-time, ongoing concern, such is the way they clicked into gear.
It was that good.
Of course we get "D.C.", "Doused" and "Godbless" from "Doughboy" - but we're also blessed with a lot more. The set plucks songs from right through the band's stellar career with the groovy "Harness Up", the wistrful "Everybody Moves" a phlegm-flecked "Winterland" and a tectonic plate-shifting, 11-minute "Mirror Blues" the highlights. More onthat last one later.
If any of the Gabriella Cilmi fan club turned up early in anticipation of the teen's live home crowd debut right after the Pretties, they might have been having second thoughts. Most people don't know what they like, they like what they know, and Ms Cilmi wasn't even an embryo when most of these songs were recorded. According to reliable reports, Gabriella was getting right into the DP groove while waiting to follow them, so hopefully a few of her curious/faithful were converted too.
Down in the engine room, Messrs Clark and Welsh are in the pocket and at side-of-stage John Hoey is happily adding keyboard melodies in-betweenwaves to friends in the crowed. But it's still guitarist Brett Myers who's ringing the changes.
Musically, it's always been that way and it's just a shame we don't see/hear more of him outside the DP confines. An errant pedal briefly spoils his Homebake but he's otherwise the rangy lighthouse around which this ship charts its course.
"Mirror Blues" obviously throws a few people who applaud its middle shift-down and get more than they bargained for when it cranks back up. Of course when it originally came out as a 45, it was a song of two parts. To hear it in its entirety (without turning the black vinyl over) you needed to buy the imported 12" version.
Of course it subsequently appeared on CD in its inedited glory ("Pre-Deity") and is on the re-issue of "Free Dirt". For mine and in the Australian context it's as important a record as Television's "Little Johnny Jewel" (another opus that spanned two sides of a 45) but marginally more powerful. High praise indeed but the way it steamed along, rumbled, died and jumped back up on this Saturday afternoon made my weekend, if not my year.
And naturally we get lots of Ronnie. Whether he's kicking a discarded condom off the lip of the stage; strutting and shimmying from one side of the platform to the other, climbing those invisible rope ladders; imploring lightning to strike him down; posing with hand-on-hip like a Darlinghurst hooker; or lasciviously poking out his tongue like a cross between His Igness and an All Black doing the haka, he's unique and a wonder.
As are Died Pretty collectively. Their reprise appearance as part of the Big Day Out juggernaut at the start of 2009 will make even that caravan's arrival worth enduring.