Posted June 17, 2009


Notes at Newtown, Sydney
Saturday, October 9, 2009

Words & Pictures: THE BARMAN

Wow on all fronts. Let's count the blessings:

• The Stems delivered a murderously good set of classics and newer tunes to say goodbye;

• Sixties R & B trailblazer Mick Hadley and very together pick-up band The Others blew us away and stole the night;

• The Booby Traps just get better with each outing;

• Notes is a great new medium-sized venue on the inner-western edge of central Sydney, which makes it an oasis in a creeping desert of live music in this town;

• And the Snoozefests are the best new band I've seen this year.

On balance, I'd say that was a pretty good Saturday night.

The Snoozefests hail from Snoozeville, just north of Sydney, and play edgy garage psych rock band roll. They open with a more than respectable cover of the Floyd's "Lucifer Sam" but it's their original stuff you need to hear. They have a CDR called "One Way Ticket To Snoresville" (it was moving off the merch desk at dizzying speed after their set - if you weren't there you can get it here) and it's a potent collection of beat and beaten-up blues, as is their live set.

The Snoozefests are a bunch of 20-somethings still feeling their way. They're awkward in an appealing way and they write wonderfully rough-edged songs. Strinbgbean guitarist-vocalist Jake Robertson delivers thosde tunes in quirky style with no lack of snot, while brother Matt (drums) and Josh Walker (bass) lock in nicely behind him. Warbling through one finger in front of his mouth is evidently a Jake trademark and he's no slouch running up and down the fretboard either. Best of all, the Snoozefests are free of pretension. They just launch into their music and see each other at the other end.

The Snoozefests are little brother band to the Booby Traps, with Carrie and Brigitte joining them for backing vocals. Speaking of which, any young band that has the good sense to cover the Masters' "War or Hands of Time" deserves to your support.

"Girl Like You" is a stone cold classic that Billy Childish could have written. "Psoriasis Blues" starts life as your standard blues jam and shapes as a yawn quiet frankly, but morphs into something less off-the-shelf.

I'd like to see the Snoozefests go head-to-head (in a friendly way of course) on the same bill as young Sydneysiders La Mancha Negra. (And I'll get my wish on November 14 when they play with headliners the Intercontinental Playboys and openers The Escapes at the Sando in Newtown, I've just been reminded.)

Geographically speaking, The Booby Traps have cornered the market on girl-group-garage in this part of the world. There's no-one matching them in Sydney, let alone going one better. That's why it was gratifying to see them playing to a big crowd and lifting accordingly. This was one confident showing and more people need to know about them.

There's not much to say that hasn't been said before. The Boobs have great songs, about half of them coated in Brett Barton's extreme fuzz and most anchored on a melodic bedrock of Carrie and Brigitte's harmonies. Kendall James has a warm bass style that enhances the latter quality.

The occasional new song tonight shows a band edging its way to Album Number Three. Let's hope it's not too long arriving.

Brett Barton and the engine room of the BTs return as Mick Hadley's backing band, with the addition of a dark-tie-and-suited James from the Crusaders on guitar.

If you've been paying attention you'll know Mick as frontman for the legendary early '60s R & B movers the Purple Hearts, who would be noteworthy enough if they were only a nursery for Australia's first guitar god Lobby Loyde. The Purps' role in the annals goes beyond that, as they built a bridge between what was musically happening overseas and here and giving us the classic "Of Hopes And Dreams And Tombstones" 45. Tonight gives most people their first glimpse of Mr Hadley, up close and personal.

And he grabs the big crowd's attention from the outset. The set's covers (that's what the Purple Hearts played) but "Tiger In Your Tank", "Gloria" and "Early In The Morning" were songs that Hadley's old band owned and he's determined to prove possession is still nine-tenths of the law.

You can accord him respect for being one of Australia's original blues shouters but you should give him much more for still being able to deliver. At 66 (his precise age was a subject of debate so I checked) Hadley has the dynamism of a frontman a third his age with a voice that's weathered remarkably well.

Is is nostalgia if we weren't there to experience it the first time? If the intention was to take us to the Thumpin' Tum or some dank mid-60s nightclub-cum-dungeon then Mick Hadley & The Others did the job. More likely it was just to deliver a good show, and ditto on that count.

A word on The Others themselves: With little time to rehearse they did a brilliant job and there's a good case that someone's undoubtedly already made for them to team with Mr Hadley on select future engagements. Mick Hadley & the Others were the act of the night.

By the time the headliners surge on-stage, the room is well packed, marking this new venue's first sell-out. How many times can you say that about Sydney rock rooms?

Notes is a wide room with mostly unobstructed sight-lines and a small upraised area at the back. There's an upstairs gallery. I don't know that the small flying P.A. wedges would handle an act of excessively high volume band with most of the sound coming off-stage, but the venue and production fairly crap on many of the boxes that pass for band rooms in this town.

The Stems might be a dysfunctional family (how many great bands are?) whose geographical spread makes it hard to muster the wherewithal to tour and rehearse, but they don't play bad shows, and that's the case tonight. In the finest traditions this farewell tour will leave fans, if not the band, wanting more.

As much of a fan of the "Heads Up!" album as I am, I thought the set was a bit top heavy with newer material. That wasn't the case in the sober light of day, with the balance reflective of each phase of the band's stop-start career.

"Get To Know Me", "Mr Misery" (dedicated to its namesake who was touring another band in another city), the newer "Hellbound Hound" and "Man With the Golden Heart" make for an big opening and the sequence only gets stronger from there.

Dom Mariani's trimmed-down and looking like a Fremantle delicatessen operator with a neat beard. By way of contrast, sparking/sparring partner Richard Lane is sporting a long beard and hair that make him resemble a mad Pommy prog rocker on keyboards and guitar.

As the dual axles upon which The Stems' musical wheels turn, Mariani and Lane look like they're operating at a level where a mix of ESP plus barely noticed glimpses and glances enable things to gel in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance. There's certainly no false bonhomie in the air. Their job's all that easier of course with that well-meshed engine room throbbing away behind them.

Disagree if you like (someone just did yesterday) but the Stems always had great songs and it's dizzying listening to the amazing series that reel out. Newer ones like "She Sees Everything" are as well-received as the oldies. Regardless of their vintage, they're delivered with swagger and energy. Covers like "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone" and "Sorry" are cherries on this cream.

After two hours or so - and with "At First Sight" being in fact the last sight Sydney's going to catch of this band - there weren't many unhappy audience members in the house.

A five star night. Thanks for the memories.