Review by THE BARMAN
A bill like this is mandatory viewing for any self-respecting I-94 Barfly. Two of the most significant Australian semi-underground albums of the last 20 years, in the case of Died Pretty, being reprised by the recording line-up, and in the instance of Ed Kuepper, being played by one of his best ensembles. Wild horses wouldn't etc. etc.
Say what you want about nostalgia. While it sells (the Enmore is about 100 heads short of being a sell-out), the fact that rock and roll is one linear path of constant re-invention and reflection gives justification, if it was needed, for an event like tonight. Have the jazz greats ever baulked under critical barbs and arrows for trotting out their most revered works? No, so shut up and listen.
I used to live down the road from Ed Kuepper in Denison Street, Newtown, in the late '80s, about 10 minutes walk away from tonight's venue. My then housemate and I threw a party once and Judi Kuepper (Dransfield) turned up. Ed stayed home and minded the kid and it was probably just as well - a few of his songs ended up on the party tapes and it would have been cringeworthy if he'd been present to hear it. The soiree ended with the non-rock and roll-liking gays nextdoor throwing bottles over the rock wall that separated the terrace buildings in retaliation. I'm not proud to say i dumped the shattered glass on their doorstep the next morning.
"Honey Steel's Gold" (let's give it a possessive apostrophe - Honey Steel may or may not have hidden some gold from the Nazis) was the first independent album to crack the Australian mainstream charts, believe it or not. I have a feeling it was played damn near from start to finish once before, at a 1991 gig at Paddington RSL Club but don't quote me. The details are foggy. One thing I do remember was seeing some unlikely types at that show and being genuinely shocked at one familiar face from the workplace. The thought occurred then that if this dork was shelling out his hard-earned to be there, Sir Edmund had truly broken through.
If you don't know the album (and you should) it's an expansive, multi-textured thing of beauty that's psychedelic in its livery. There are still traces of the Saints and the Laughing Clowns (especially) in the songs by they really only become evident in an all-day listening session. But it's mostly about long, exploratory passages where the guitar weaves in and out of the keyboard lines or traces out a trancelike path.
"Honey Steel's Gold" was rendered by a damn fine band but tonight's is arguably even better. Peter Oxley on bass and Jeffrey Weggener on drums is as close to the best engine room Ed's ever had (and that's not forgetting his longtime drummer Mark Dawson's prowess for a feel.) Not sure who the keyboardist is but he replicates Chris Townend's parts well.
You probably know the set list so let's not dwell on it. There's a pause and a joke at the mid-point when Ed tells us that this is where you'd flip over the LP if you were playing a vinyl copy. The title track (which extends itself and seems to take on a trancelike life of its own) and "Friday's Blue Cheer/Libertines of Oxley" (no, I've never worked where the first title became the second in that song, and still can't) are awe-inspiring. Cowboy-hatted Jeffrey Weggener is the stand-out, nailing the feels and imparting an edgy aspect like the champion he is. There's no time for an encore and that's a pity, but that's the nature of these things sometime.
Speaking of encores, I was in two minds whether to spill the beans on what songs made it to the stage when Died Pretty wrapped up. Maybe we'll post those when the tour winds up. Needless to say, it's hard to please everyone even when they're in the collective throes of rapture. I would have loved to have heard "Landsakes" but was thankful "Stoneage Cinderella" took a bow.
I don't hold with the theory that you can't simultaneously be a fan of the Detroit/garage scene and the eclectic psych-rock-pop hybrid stuff that Died Pretty dealt in, even moreso in these times of fragmentation and blurry edges. That Ron Peno began musical life as Ronnie Pop in a Stooges-inspired Funhouse band called The Hellcats is neither here nor there, as Brett Myers was more a Velvets fan with his first band of note, The End, in Brisbane. In the end, it's all fairly irrelevant as DP didn't end up sounding like any of their predecessors. At the core of "Doughboy Hollow" are outstanding songs and that's the start and end point for any pigeonholing. The creative fulcrum of guitarist Brett Myers and singer/lyricist on Peno were/are one of the great partnerships in Oz music as well as the reason that Died Pretty were never like other bands.
One of the prime attractions in a late '80s DP show were the whirling dervish antics of Ron Peno. Tonight he's more James Brown than Iggy Stooge. No climbing of invisible staircases but lots of hip shake jerk and microphone action, as the man himself promised in a conversation a few weeks before. Peno's totally into the moment and the crowd's totally into him.
Totally into the tunes too with the biggies ("Godbless" and "DC") rapturously received. That Chris Welsh has barely touched a drumstick in 15 years (he teaches English in Thailand) was not a problem. Bassist Steve Clark is solid but more animated than I remember. Keyboardist John Hoey's flat-top weirdly catches the light so he looks like one of the guys from The Monks from where I'm sitting. A closer sighting after the gig shows there's no tonsure and his head of hair is intact.
As alluded earlier, the encore is where the element of mystery kicked in. Let's say that no-one wanted Died Pretty off that stage and the encores were extended*.
What? Is it really seven years since the bulk of the band played together? Tonight, Died Pretty were far better than anyone's entitled to be after a break.
* Blue Sky Day; Everybody Moves; Stoneage Cinderella; Winterland; Harness Up; Whitlam Square; Final Twist.